I was trying to figure out what to do with the plethora of basil I have from my new plant and found a recipe for basil salt. I thought that would be a good way to preserve some of the basil and an excellent opportunity to use my cute lime green mortar and pestle from World Market!
It was pretty easy. I started with a few dry basil leaves, rolled them up like a cigar and cut little ribbons (it’s called a chiffonade – that’s French). Then I cut those strips into smaller pieces. Next I put about a tablespoon of kosher salt into the mortar and added the basil bits. Next I took the pestle and mashed everything together, using the sides to help crush everything. The salt also creates some abrasion to help the whole process. Add in about four tablespoons more of salt and mix all together. Then pour all of it out onto a plate or tray and let it dry out for a few hours. It’s important that you don’t have the dishwasher on or anything else that will create humidity as you’re trying to dry the out the oils that the basil released into the salt.
Then you just pour the dried salt and basil into a little jar or an old screw cap spice dispenser (cleaned out so it doesn’t smell like the previous occupant). This is great to have on hand for making pasta, meatballs, steak, fish, chicken – just about anything. You can also add in chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano to make it a standby Italian seasoned salt. I can’t wait to put it on my grilled chicken this weekend!
So about six months ago I decide to start growing an herb garden. I used to have a rosemary plant and a French thyme in a pot and would always go grab a bunch when I was making soup. At some point, I let both go to ruin. Since we’re renting right now, I can’t exactly rip out the backyard and start planting a real garden, but I figured I could get some pots and start growing some herbs. Since I want to eventually use herbs I grow to make oils and scrubs, I figured I better get started. Growing herbs is supposed to be easy but I’m finding it kind of tricky. For one, my backyard is very sunny and hot (which is supposed to good for Mediterranean plants, right?) so my plants look pretty beat up by the time I get home at night to water. And half the time I think I’m overwatering and half the time I think I’m underwatering. Some of the plants have been doing well and some, not so much. But overall, it’s a very good learning experience. My boyfriend recently commented that “you know, you aren’t growing enough to really do anything with.” I told him it was all about getting a feel for it so when I really start, I’ll know what I’m doing without killing everything. Also, it’s good for me to get in touch with the source of what I want to found this business on, instead of just buying essential oils in glass jars. It gets me into the roots of the matter, so to speak.
So I wanted to share some of my favorites with you. The plant that has been doing the best is my dwarf Meyer lemon tree! I’m mainly surprised because it’s in a pot that I didn’t think was going to be big enough, but was all I could afford at the time. It’s got a bunch of baby lemons that keep getting bigger. I didn’t even think it was going to produce anything this year!
My favorite is the basil plant I just bought – mostly because it’s nice and bushy and hasn’t been in my backyard long enough to get sunburned! It smells peppery and herby and wonderful!! I’m going to try a basil salt recipe I found. Of course, I had to buy a cute little (green) mortar and pestle at World Market to crush it with. I also bought a black mint plant. I wasn’t sure it was going to do well but it is really loving the backyard. I recently moved it into a larger pot and it was swimming with roots!
So the thing I didn’t think about when I started this, and bought some really gorgeous pots to put the herbs in, is that they will eventually get too large for those pots and need to be transplanted. I am so grateful to the universe (in the form of my next door neighbor) for providing me with these wonderful clay pots! Now I can move them all into these beautiful matching pots. I’m so happy to have these living things in my life and be able to water them every afternoon. It’s very meditative to water them after a long day at work (and long drive home) and just listen to the birds and the windchimes. It gets me out of my head for a while.
I recently came back from a great trip to New Orleans. I’m not much for cajun spice but I did try a lot of new things and discovered some tastes that I really enjoyed. While venturing around town I found this great store called Pepper Palace where you could taste all the hot sauces and BBQ sauces! It was amazing! I got to try some things I probably wouldn’t have thought would taste good together but they did.
So here I am on Memorial Day weekend, getting ready to cook some brats and I thought “boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could make some amazing topping for these!” So that’s when I remembered the onion and peach flavor combo from the store. I decided to just go for it and create my own recipe. It turned out really good! The flavor is really intense because I didn’t let the onions caramelize long enough before I put in the peaches so I’ve reworked the recipe a bit to compensate for that.
Peach & Onion Jam with thyme and balsamic vinegar
4 ripe peaches (apricots or plums would also be good)
2 sweet onions – medium to large
2 T butter
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2-1 C sugar
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
Cut the onions in half and then slice thinly. Separate all the slices. Add the butter into a saute pan over medium heat and add in all the onions. Stir to cover all the slices with the butter and keep stirring every few minutes. The onions will take a long time to caramelize but should start getting nice and brown without burning. If they are getting too dark, turn the flame lower. Once the onions start to darken, add in the balsamic vinegar and the thyme leaves from the sprigs.
In a saucepan, heat up enough water to cover the peaches and 1/2 – 1 cup of sugar. Add in the peaches (whole) and allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until tender when a fork is inserted. Prepare a bowl with ice water to put the peaches in when done. Take the peaches out with a slotted spoon and put into the ice water. Keep the syrup you cooked the peaches in for later. Allow them to cool for a few minutes. At this point the skin should peel off easily. Cut peaches in half with a knife and take out the pit. Chop the peaches into small pieces and add to onions once the onions have caramelized.
Add the peaches and any juice to the onion mixture and turn the heat to low. Let the flavors combine for a few minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, ladle in some of the peach syrup. Final product should be nice and brown and syrupy. Ladle finished jam into jars. At this point you could do a water bath to seal or just refrigerate. This would be good on brats, hamburgers or steak. Also, you could add sour cream to this for an amazing onion dip!
This recipe makes about 3 half-pint jars.
For my second attempt I decided to make a recipe I saw on a TV cooking show. It is an apple maple topping for ice cream! It smelled heavenly cooking in the pan and I can’t wait to try it. It only yielded three half pint jars so I’ll have to triple the recipe next time. I also let it cook too long and don’t have enough syrup in the jars like I wanted. But it will make a really pretty Mother’s Day gift!
So I’ve been pretty scared about the whole idea of canning. It’s not something I learned growing up (although I know my grandma used to do it back east). I just don’t want the whole thing to blow up in two months like that scene from Holiday Inn! So I read through the process, got my cans and accoutrements and was extra careful about sterilizing everything. I decided to try my hand at a Strawberry Basil Jam (so I could use the basil I’ve been growing).
The Strawberry Basil Jam didn’t start off well. They had me add a ton of sugar (which I was already suspicious about, but I like to do the recipe as written the first time). When I tasted it, it was way too sweet! Good thing I had bought the huge basket of strawberries. I added in another 2 lbs and that evened out the flavor but, in the end, it never jelled correctly ;-(
I decided to label it as “Strawberry Syrup” instead and it was well received by family. My boyfriend loves it and doesn’t want me to change the recipe at all! But, of course, I did change the recipe as I was making it so I have no clue what the actual final recipe was! I’ve tried it on ice cream and have made strawberry lemonade with it and it is delish! I can’t wait to try it in a cocktail!