Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Herb Series - Basil Basics


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It’s getting closer to spring, and it will soon be time to start planning and planting our flower, vegetable and herb gardens. I’m especially looking forward to growing my annual crop of basil in the half barrel that I’ve used for many years. Besides being such a tasty and versatile plant, those green basil plants are just so pretty!

I know I did a post about basil last year (June 27 to be exact), but basil is the first of the new series about herbs. Maybe you’ll find something here that you didn’t already know!

Basil is of the genus “Ocimum”, and the botanical name is “Ocimum basilicum”. It is native to India, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. Basil is typically grown between June and September, and is considered an annual, but may be perennial in tropical locations. The basil plant can grow 1 to 3 feet tall and 6 to 12 inches across. It grows best in light, well-drained soil in a sunny area. Basil is a low-maintenance plant, but can be susceptible to aphids, bacterial and fungal leaf stem and root diseases.

Sweet basil is the most common, but there are more than 160 basil cultivars, with more coming along all the time. This plant is easy to grow, both from seeds and from cuttings. Cuttings can be suspended in water and should root in around 2 weeks, then transplanted. If the plant is wilted it will bounce back with a good watering. Yellow leaves indicate stress, either over-watering or too much or too little fertilizer.

Removing flower heads will keep the plant producing leaves. You can let some heads produce seeds to save for next year. Be sure to harvest the plants before frost. See below for tips on preserving the leaves.

Medicinal/Health Properties:

Basil oil may have antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. It is also potentially an anticancer treatment. In India it is used to treat stress, asthma and diabetes. It is toxic to mosquitoes, but not to rats. It isn’t known if it could be harmful to humans.

Culinary:

Fresh basil should always be added to cooked foods at the end of the cooking process in order to preserve its flavor. It adds great flavor to soups, meats, salads and vegetables. Basil vinegar is a flavorful addition to salad dressings and would be tasty to drizzle over cooked vegetables.

BASIL VINEGAR

2 cups white vinegar
1 cup torn basil leaves
basil sprig

Place torn basil leaves in sterilized quart jar. Bring vinegar to a simmer (do not boil) and add to jar. Cover and let stand until room temperature. Strain vinegar into sterilized jar or bottle and discard torn basil. Add basil sprig. Cover and store in cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Makes 2 cups.

 You could also do the same thing with rosemary, tarragon or oregano.

Several years ago people were making herb-infused oils for cooking. It turned out that those home-prepared oils didn’t hold up well, becoming rancid very quickly. The oils aren’t mentioned much anymore, but the vinegars should do well.

Preserving:

There are several ways you can preserve your basil leaves. One is to cut stems and place them in a glass with about 2 inches of water; cover loosely with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. Another is to wrap the stems in damp paper towels and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. You may also dry the leaves. They freeze well and make great pesto. I still have a few cubes of pesto left in the freezer from last year, and often throw one into my pasta sauce.

The bottom line is that basil is inexpensive, easy to grow and a flavorful addition to your dinner table. So do as I do every year – pick up a packet of seeds and sow them after the ground is warm and the danger of frost is over. You’ll be glad you did!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Party Pictures

Good Monday morning! It’s beautiful and sunny here, temp in the low 30s. We’re recovering from the party on Saturday, and our house is pretty much back to normal – whatever that is. I thought I’d share a few shots from the party and maybe a recipe or two.


This is the appetizer table – Yum!








Lotsa lasagna with corn pudding in the middle! Ham is hiding under the foil on the right.





Salads – and a touch of Spring! The dish on the left is 24-Hour Salad, and the gorgeous fruit tray was our daughter’s contribution. So good! The tulips in the back were a hostess gift from my sister and brother-in-law, and they added a bright, cheerful touch.

The lasagna recipe is one I’ve made many times, and it’s a bit different than most you’ll find. It’s adapted from one in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook published in the 1960s.  The 24-Hour Salad is a recipe that’s been around since the 1960s or so, but we hadn’t had it in quite a long time. It’s easy and delicious – and perfect because you make it the day before you’ll be serving it.

SPICY, MEATY LASAGNA

1 pound hot pork sausage
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon whole basil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 (16 oz.) can tomatoes
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (24 oz.) small-curd cottage cheese (3 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
10 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked as directed and drained
1 pound Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Brown meat slowly; drain fat. Add next 5 ingredients and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Combine next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.

Spoon a small amount of sauce on bottom of lasagna pan or 9x13” baking dish. Place half the noodles in dish, then half the cottage cheese filling. Top with half the Mozzarella, then half the meat sauce. Repeat layers.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.

Notes: My box of noodles was 16 oz. and contained 18 noodles – I used 12. The sauce on the bottom of the pan is to keep the bottom noodles from getting hard during baking, and makes the slices easier to remove from the pan. The dish can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated (I made mine the day before). Just add about 15 more minutes to the baking time, and be sure to set the pan out at room temperature for a few minutes before placing in the oven.
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24-HOUR SALAD

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 (10 oz.) package frozen peas, thawed
2 cups mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar
several strips of  bacon, fried and crumbled 

Layer vegetables in 9x13” baking dish in the order given. Mix mayonnaise and sugar and spread over the top. Sprinkle with bacon.

Notes: I like more dressing, so made 1 1/2 times the recipe given. You can add canned water chestnuts, drained and sliced.  I’ve had it sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. It’s a recipe you can play around with and make to your liking.
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Today is Museum Advocacy Day. I love museums! Wednesday is National Personal Chef’s Day and World Pistachio Day. Thursday we observe National Chili Day and Polar Bear Day. Friday will be Floral Design Day and National Tooth Fairy Day.

Saturday will be March 1 – the year is moving right along, isn’t it? Be sure to check back for the list of  holidays and celebrations for March.
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Back to Work!

I hope you’re all doing well. I’ve been lax in posting for the past couple of weeks, but have a good excuse! Plans and preparations for a big birthday party for my husband pretty much took over my life and every waking hour! First there were a couple of weeks of menu planning, list making and shopping. It’s hard to finalize a menu when considering all the different dietary issues and likes/dislikes of people, isn’t it? Thursday was house cleaning and decorating. Friday was a full day of prep and cooking. The party was yesterday, and we had a house full of family and friends. We had folks eating at 4 different tables in the dining room and sunroom, with others managing to hold their plates in their laps while eating. And we had so many cars that we “borrowed” one side of our neighbor’s driveway - with her permission, of course.

Most importantly, I think Hubby enjoyed his day very much. Everyone seemed to have a good time eating and visiting and laughing. Ages in the group ranged from 3 1/2 months to 91 years! And I’m certainly hoping no one went home hungry. Here was the menu:

Assorted dips & spreads, cheese, salami, crackers, pretzels and peanuts
Lasagna (2 pans)
Ham
Ranch potato casserole
Green beans
Corn pudding
24-hour salad
Coleslaw
Jello
Fruit
Parkerhouse rolls, mini sour cream biscuits and garlic bread
Birthday cake (bakery), cupcakes and Pumpkin Pie Dessert

One bonus is that I won’t have to cook dinner tonight, even after sending goodies home with several people and taking some to the neighbor to say “thanks” for the use of her driveway.  We do love leftovers!
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Now that that big undertaking is over, I’m hoping to get back to my regular schedule and bring you some new ideas and information.

Please check back for the new Herb of the Week – this week it’s basil, my very favorite!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Savory Pot Roast

Yesterday's dinner smelled so good all afternoon! Preparation was easy - it baked in the oven, and I made some creamy mashed potatoes to smother with the good gravy that it made. Here’s how to make it:

SAVORY POT ROAST

1 1.5- to 2-pound boneless beef shoulder roast
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 onion
1 can beef broth
1/2 packet onion soup mix
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound baby carrots

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in large skillet. Season the roast on one side with salt and pepper and place in skillet, seasoned side down. Now season the top side. Brown the roast on both sides, then remove to an 11 x 7-inch baking dish.

Peel onion and cut in half vertically, then place cut-side-down on cutting board and cut into thin strips. Place onion in skillet and saute until softened.

Combine next 7 ingredients. Pour 1 cup of the liquid mixture into skillet with onions; let it come to a boil and reduce by about half. Place carrots in baking dish around beef. Pour the onions with broth and the remaining broth mixture over beef.

Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees for one hour, then reduce to 300 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or till tender.

Remove roast from oven and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before slicing. Cut across the grain for tender slices. This roast didn’t slice into neat slices because it was just so tender it fell into large chunks of yumminess!

If you want the broth thickened, skim off fat and place broth in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Make a slurry of 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water and stir into boiling liquid. Return to boil – when it boils it will be at its perfect thickness. Remove from heat and season to taste.

Enjoy!

Notes:
(1) The shoulder roast is a less tender cut due to its location on the beef – a heavily-used muscle area. It needs braising or low, slow cooking to turn out tender and delicious.

(2) I just realized that a pot roast recipe was posted here recently, but they were different cuts of beef done in entirely different ways. And a good pot roast just can’t be beaten – it’s a great way to feed a lot of folks with minimal fuss.
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Herb of the Week:

This is a new series I’m working on. Hopefully, I can bring to you a new culinary or medicinal herb, along with its history and some ways to use it, on a weekly basis. If you have any questions about any herb, please contact me and I’ll try to answer them.
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“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
(Albert Einstein)

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
(Norman Vincent Peale)

So try something new today! A new recipe, a new craft project or maybe just do an everyday thing in a new way. And then believe you can do it successfully!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Flowers For Your Sweetie

detailed-image-of-rose_w725_h544Valentine’s Day is this Friday – have you ordered flowers yet? If not, you still have a little time. Are you aware of the traditional meanings of different posies? Long ago small bouquets called “Tussie Mussies” were assembled based on the message that the sender wanted to convey. This is a sweet tradition, and one that should possibly be renewed. Wouldn’t you love to receive a fragrant, small bouquet full of meaning and sweet sentiment? I would think it would have more meaning than a room full of hybrid roses!

Here are some familiar flowers and their meanings:

Aster – love

Begonia – warning

Carnation
red – aching heart
white – truth
yellow – slighted love
Daffodil – chivalry

Daisy – innocence

Forget-Me-Not – true love

Gardenia – secret love

Geranium
dark – melancholy
pink – preference
red – comforting
Gladiolas – recovery

Hibiscus – grace

Hyacinth – sorrow

Iris – messenger

Ivy – fidelity

Lavender – distrust

Lilac
purple – love begins
white – innocence
Lily – purity

Magnolia – dignity

Orchid – beautiful lady

Pansy – remembrance

Peony – bashfulness

Petunia – anger

Rose
red – love
white – innocence
yellow – infidelity
single – simplicity
Snapdragon – indifference

Tulip
red – declaration of love
variegated – beautiful eyes
yellow – hopeless love
Violet – modesty

Zinnia – thinking of you

Why not put together a personalized bouquet using these traditional meanings for your favorite person on Valentine’s Day?
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If you'd like to shop at Amazon for Valentine's Day, go to my other site, www.thecottagepantry.com,  for your direct link!
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“Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will.”

(A. W. Tozer, American pastor and author)
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This week’s observances are listed on the “Holidays” page, so be sure to check them out!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 7, 2014

National Wear Red Day

Today is the day that everyone is asked to wear red in support of women’s heart health. February is American Heart Month, with Women’s Heart Week observed February 1 through 7; however, heart disease and stroke are things we should all be educated about year-round. There are many websites that will provide any information you might want.

Heart disease is now the Number 1 killer of women, with stroke being third in line. Many times we don’t know the signs and symptoms of these deadly diseases, but we do know that diet and exercise play a major role in being healthy and preventing major health problems. Typically, women's symptoms are quite different than those men experience.

Women often tend to care for everyone else and neglect themselves in the process. I’m as guilty as anyone of putting myself at the end of the priority list (or not being on it at all), and I certainly know that is not a good thing. I think we should all take a pledge to become aware of our bodies and our health and to take the best care of ourselves that we can. After all, if we don’t take care of ourselves we can’t take proper care of others.

So start eating better, rest, get some sort of exercise daily even if it’s just walking, and see your doctor for any preventative testing necessary to monitor your current health conditions.
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“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”
(Helen Keller)
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Simple Pot Roast

Well, the old groundhog saw his shadow yesterday, so we’re in for 6 more weeks of winter. Not that we weren’t, though, because it’s still early February! But the thoughts of an early spring are so pleasant considering the long, dreary winter we’ve had around here. I did buy some packets of flower seeds a few days ago, just because the pictures on the front looked so pretty and colorful. They made me think of warmer weather. Eventually…..

The second event yesterday was the big game - I won’t use the exact name since that’s actually a copyrighted term, but we all know it well. How could we not? I remember going to my boyfriend-now-husband’s house to “watch” the first one in 1967 with his family and not knowing a thing about the game! I still don’t know much about football, and at this point I may not learn too much more.

I’m sure we all had our snacks and treats ready last night to enjoy while watching the game, no matter which team we were cheering for. And we all look forward to the new commercials, some of which were quite good and some not so much. We had dessert while watching – chocolate parfaits made with chocolate pudding, crumbled brownies and a mixture of peanut butter, white chocolate and butterscotch chips. They were pretty tasty!

Dinnertime, of course, was well before time to snack during the game. I made this roast in the slow cooker, and it made the house smell just so good all day! It was just the thing to pour over mashed potatoes and for dunking bread.

SUPER SIMPLE POT ROAST

1 beef roast
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 packet dry Italian salad dressing mix
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
1 packet brown gravy mix
1 cup water

Heat oil in skillet and brown roast on all sides. Place roast in slow cooker. Now, here’s the hard part! Pour all 3 packets of dry mix over the roast. Pour the water around the roast. Cover and cook on low 8 to 9 hours. Remove meat to platter and let stand 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Slice and return to sauce in slow cooker.

This recipe is all over the internet, and has lots of different names, but whatever you call it, it’s delicious!

Notes: My top round roast was just under 2 pounds, but you could go up to 4 pounds.
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Are you familiar with all the cuts of beef? It seems there are just so many different cuts! Typically, the beef carcass is cut in half front to back, then the two halves are cut in half top to bottom, with the sections being called “forequarter” and “hindquarter”.

The forequarter is cut into chuck, rib, brisket, plate & shank cuts. The chuck is further cut into roasts and steaks. The rib is cut into prime rib, rib eye, short ribs, with less tender pieces and/or scraps being ground. The brisket, of course, is the brisket! The plate is a tougher, more fatty cut and is portioned into short ribs, skirt steak and some of it is ground. 

Hindquarters are larger portions and become the loin (including sirloin, tenderloin, short loin and bottom sirloin), round, flank and shank. The loin sections are cut into steaks and roasts. The round portion is cut into round, eye of round, top round, bottom round – all steaks and roasts. The flank is a tougher cut and is perfect for london broil.

The meat closest to the legs and neck will be tougher due to the extra work the animal does in those areas. Basically, the longer the distance from the legs the more tender the meat will be. Also, the tougher cuts are perfect for those low, slow cooking processes and for braising. They tend to be a little less expensive, too.

I actually learned some things while doing research for this post. I hope you find something helpful and interesting here, too!
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Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!