Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sweet Basil

I love basil! Every year I pour a packet of basil seeds into my barrel planter, and we enjoy the lovely leaves throughout the summer.

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The seeds germinate in just a few days. Once the tiny plants are an inch or two high, I space them out, gently placing the tender roots into holes poked into the soil with a pencil. A good watering helps them bounce back right away. The packet this year seemed to have fewer seeds than in the past, so there may be less basil to eat and share, but it is looking really pretty and smells so good!

The botanical name for basil is Ocimum basilicum, and it is a member of the family Lamiaceae (mints). Propogation of basil goes back as far as 5000 years, originally native to India and tropical sections of Asia. Basil is usually treated as an annual. Growing basil is easy, and pinching off the flower heads will help promote leaf production and keep your plants growing all season.

To store fresh basil in the kitchen, cut the stems on an angle. Rinse and pat dry between paper towels. Place the bunch of basil into a glass with a couple of inches of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.

To preserve basil, you can dry the stems either in a food dehydrator or by tying bunches of stems together and hanging in a cool, dry place. You can also freeze the leaves. To do this, blanch them for a few seconds, chill in ice water, pat dry and place in freezer. Another option would be to puree the leaves with olive oil and pour into ice cube trays.

Basil is used mainly in cooking, although some uses in aromatic and items can be found. When adding basil to cooked dishes, always add it just before serving as cooking diminishes it's flavor. The leaves can be snipped with scissors or torn, but I most often do a chiffonade - just roll the leaves together, then cut into narrow slices with a sharp knife. Toss the leaves into pasta sauce or on a salad for great flavor.

Pesto is a great way to use your basil. It’s simply basil, parsley, Parmesan or Romano cheese, pine nuts, garlic and oil blended together. Other nuts such as walnuts or almonds may also be used. The flavor of pesto is great – especially on toasted baguette slices with a bit of cream cheese. There are many pesto recipes in cookbooks and online, so let's all try one!

One of our favorite basil dishes is Caprese Salad - a flavorful mixture of sliced fresh tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and torn basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. It’s a wonderful summer treat, and is very easy to prepare because it's more of a procedure than an actual recipe.
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tip Tuesday

Today’s tips are all about vanilla. Personally, vanilla is my favorite flavor of cake, ice cream, etc. There’s something “warm and fuzzy” about the scent and flavor of vanilla that just makes me feel good.

Vanilla comes from an orchid, of the genus Vanilla. Originally from Mexico, by the early 1900s it was produced in many other tropical parts of the world. Some say the very best vanilla comes from Madagascar. The flavor and fragrance of vanilla comes from a compound called vanillin, and vanilla is wisely used both in food preparation and aromatherapy.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron due to its being quite labor-intensive. The cost doesn’t keep it from being popular – Coca Cola is said to be the world’s largest consumer of natural vanilla.

Many compounds in vanilla have antioxidant benefits, but most of us do not consume enough to gain their full power. Now for a few tips:

1) Place a drop or two on light bulbs, turn on the light – it’s a lovely air freshener.

2) To freshen the microwave, place a small amount in a cup and heat on High for 1 minute.

3) To freshen the refrigerator, put a drop or two on a cotton ball and place inside.

4) Add 1 tablespoon to a gallon of paint to remove the strong paint odor.

5) Burned yourself while cooking? Rub a small amount of vanilla on the burn – as the alcohol evaporates it will cool the burn.

6) To repel bugs when outside, mix 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Rub on skin.

7) For a spray air freshener, mix a few drops of vanilla essential oil – not extract – in a spray bottle filled with water.

8) Place a whole vanilla bean in your sugar cannister. Not only will it preserve the bean, but you’ll have lovely vanilla-scented sugar.
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This week’s “holidays” –
June 17 – 22 is Old Time Fiddler’s Week. I enjoy old-time and bluegrass music, and am amazed at the sounds they can make with those instruments!

June 20 – Dump the Pump Day and Recess at Work Day

June 21 – World Handshake Day*

June 22 – Great American Backyard Campout

June 23 – America’s Kids Day, Baby Boomers Recognition Day* and Pink Flamingo Day*

(* indicates holidays held every year on the same date.)
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Do As The Recipe Says – Not As I Do

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had a good week and are looking forward to a fun, relaxing weekend. It’s been the usual busy week here, and the weekend will probably be the same.

Father’s Day is Sunday, so we’re doing a small family gathering at Dad’s tomorrow. I’m not sure yet what the menu will be – it probably involves a quick trip to the grocery when I get into town.

Last night I decided to try a dinner roll recipe from Facebook – thanks, Jan! I’m not sure where she got the recipe, but I’d venture to say it’s probably also on Pinterest. The recipe is written below, followed by my mix-up and results.

EASY YEAST ROLLS
1 packet yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups Bisquick
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

Stir yeast into water in large bowl and mix until dissolved. Stir in the Bisquick and sugar. Mix well. Put dough on floured surface and knead 12 to 15 minutes. Shape into rolls and place in greased pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise 1 hour. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Easy enough, right? Well, apparently it wasn’t for me. I must have been distracted, busy or something because I added the melted butter to the dough! While kneading I kept thinking the dough was awfully sticky and kept adding small amounts of flour to it. I shaped the rolls and put them into the pan, covered them with a damp cloth and placed them in the oven to rise. I had warmed the oven to about 200 degrees and turned it off. 

The rolls rose nicely, but fell when I removed the cloth. They took a bit longer to bake than the recipe said, probably due to the extra-moist dough.

They did taste good, but were a bit heavier than a good yeast roll should be. 

I already have plans to try this one again and do it correctly! I’m thinking of rewriting the recipe, with a definite line between the actual ingredients and the melted butter.
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Happy Father's Day to all those great Dads out there! We appreciate everything you've done to help make us who we are!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Busy Week Ahead!

I hope all is well with everyone. Things are improving here. The house is getting back to normal after the painting and floor refinishing projects. The surgical patients are doing well and are back at work. The fall patient is doing better, having some home health care and walking with a walker. Needless to say, we're enjoying the calm and quiet and lack of drama!

This week is a busy one. We have 3 birthdays to celebrate and several doctor’s appointments. Sunday, of course, is Father’s Day. I’m starting to work on menus for several get-togethers this week.

Here is the weekly event calendar:

June 10 to 16 is Men’s Health Week. It’s important for the men in our lives to take care of themselves, even though they tend put off medical needs.

June 11 – Corn on the Cob Day*

June 12 – National Jerky Day and National Peanut Butter Cookie Day* (yum!)

June 14 – Army’s Birthday*, Family History Day*, Flag Day*,  Pause for the Pledge Day* and World Blood Donor Day*

June 15 – National Day of Prayer for Law Enforcement Officers and Worldwide Day of Giving*

June 16 – Father’s Day, Fudge Day* and Husband Caregiver Day

Probably the most important of these days to celebrate is Father’s Day, and those of us lucky enough to still have our fathers certainly realize their importance in our lives. They've cared for us, taught us, loved us, and at times corrected us. My Dad is now 93 years old (or young!) and is doing extremely well for his age. He is active and mentally alert, and pretty much self-sufficient. Now if he’d only hand over those car keys! Smile
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Mark Twain, Old Times on the Mississippi:
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Mario Cuomo:
I talk and talk and talk, and I haven't taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.
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Enjoy your week!
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!