November 29th, 2010 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
If you live in a city, fresh fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by. Sure, most major metropolises have farmers markets and the stuff is trucked in from nearby farms, but, it’s just not the same as a backyard garden.
Well, that’s changing. More and more city folk are getting together and starting community gardens, take Sydney, Australia for example.
Read More:Aussie City Dwellers Using “Urban Food Maps”
September 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
For decades, American cooks relegated sprigs of parsley to throwaway garnishes on the sides of sad-looking dinner plates.
More recently, herb-savvy cooks have recognized parsley’s clean, fresh flavor—an essential ingredient in dishes like Gremolata-Crusted Fish Fillets, Orange-Parsley Hummus and Braised Mushrooms with Herbs.
Cilantro, often called Chinese parsley, adds a distinctive flavor to Thai and Latin American cuisine, and I encourage you to experiment with easy recipes like Tequila-Lime Corn & Bean Salad, Thai Roasted Squash Soup (right) and Garlic Snow Peas with Cilantro.
Read More:Green Showdown: Parsley vs. Cilantro
September 19th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and the easiest way to learn the culture is to immerse yourself in its cusine.
Fortunately for North Americans, Latin fruits and veggies have become quite accessible, and just about anyone can prepare an authentic meal.
You’ll also need to keep seven important herbs and spices on hand.
Read More:7 Must-Have Hispanic Herbs and Spices
April 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Jim and Kristen Mitchell, a Scottsdale, AZ-based husband-and-wife team, have just launched Humble Seed, a company that offers premium organic seed kits that produce an array of edible plants.
Four themed garden kits are available:
- Hot Mama’s Peppers and Chiles (including Yankee bell, habanero, cayenne, Caribbean red and Anaheim chile peppers)
- Uncle Herb’s Favorites (including bouquet dill, common sage, Greek oregano, cumin and German winter thyme)
- Veggin’ Out (including Washington cherry tomatoes, Bull’s Blood beets, De Cicco broccoli, Marketmore cucumbers and black seeded Simpson leaf lettuce)
- The Producer, a bulk fruit and vegetable kit for community gardens and organizations
Each kit contains at least 10 premium heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid and organic seed packets for environmentally conscious growers.
“My whole life, I’ve been trying to find one calling—one passion that would help people,” Jim says. “I really connected to growing my own food. There are so many health, financial and environmental benefits, and creating a stable, healthy food supply reduces our reliance on other economies.”
“We are extremely excited that we’re helping empower people in a down economy,” adds Kristen. “Families can now get fresh food at a fraction of the cost found at your local produce section.”
Kits start at $21.95. The website also features books, recipes and seed-growing tips.
Humble Seed’s launch party is Thursday (Earth Day), with proceeds benefiting Waste Not, a local nonprofit organization that delivers food to more than 80 agencies that feed the hungry.
Read More:Organic Heirloom Seeds Produce Themed Gardens
April 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
To maximize your organic garden’s yield, plant vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow and versatile in a variety of dishes.
Here are the six top springtime picks from the experts at Bonnie Plants, a green-garden wholesaler in Union Springs, AL:
- Tomatoes. The most popular fruit in U.S. home gardens, tomatoes are hard to beat in terms of taste, health benefits and versatility.
- Yellow squash and zucchini. While their growing season is shorter than the tomato’s, squash are very productive. You’ll pick them every day once the season starts.
- Lettuce. As long as weather is mild, leaf lettuce will continue to produce. If you regularly enjoy salads, growing your own lettuce can offer substantial savings.
- Cucumbers. Grown in a cage or on a trellis, a single cucumber plant can produce five to 10 cukes. You can place two or three plants in a cage just 18 inches in diameter and 4 feet high. Your yield: 15 to 30 cucumbers from a slice of ground no bigger than an end table.
- Specialty peppers. Price jalapeños and other specialty peppers in the supermarket, and you’ll realize the benefit of growing your own. These peppers produce especially high yields in areas with a long, hot summer.
- Herbs. Also pricey in supermarkets, fresh herbs are easy and economical to grow. Consider planting sage, rosemary, mint, thyme and chives (one plant each), plus at least three basil plants. Try different basil varieties: sweet, cinnamon, Thai and/or boxwood.
Photo courtesy of Bonnie Plants/ARA
Read More:6 High-Yield Organic Vegetables & Herbs
March 17th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
By Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
The mint family offers a mouthwatering array, including pineapple mint, chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, spearmint and peppermint. These refreshing scents and flavors will enhance cooked meals, beverages and potpourris.
Mint can also be an indispensable plant. Bumblebees and other pollinators are attracted to the delicate flowers that appear in mid- to late summer. Some varieties even sport variegated foliage for added interest in the herb garden.
Mint’s only downside is its ability to take over your garden if it gets half a chance. But you can contain its exuberance and keep it close at hand by growing it in pots—and I do mean “pots,” plural.
You can also confine mint to a garden bed with an edging of metal or plastic. Bury the edging to a depth of 14 inches around the perimeter of the mint patch.
A Sampling of Mints
Spearmint (Mentha spicata), with its slightly sweet flavor, makes a refreshing tea, and it can be used to highlight flavors in a fruit salad. You can also add it to new potatoes or grain pilaf.
Spearmint is the mint in mint jelly and a key ingredient in mint juleps. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall, with pale pink or white blooms appearing in mid- to late summer.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is more pungent than spearmint, growing to 3 feet tall, with pinkish lavender flowers. It’s a common ingredient in teas, especially those that soothe the stomach.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) hugs the ground and prefers shade. It drapes over a container or weaves itself between stepping stones or stone walls.
Growing and Harvesting Mint
Most mints can be started from seed, with the exception of peppermint, which is propagated by cuttings.
Choose a sunny location (except for Corsican mint) with moderately fertile, humusy soil. Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Most mints are hardy to zones 3 or 4; Corsican mint is hardy to zone 6, so treat it as an annual in colder regions.
Once plants are growing vigorously, you can harvest young or mature leaves. Don’t be afraid to cut back the plants frequently to promote fresh growth. Use fresh leaves in cooking, or dry mint leaves on trays or by hanging bunched branches upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathy Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.
Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association/Fotolia
Read More:Mint – A Healthy Cook’s Secret Ingredient
February 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Andrew Carmellini, the award-winning chef at New York City’s Locanda Verde, used to cook at home with store-bought dried herbs.
“I think I went through six brands before I gave up,” he writes in his wonderful cookbook, Urban Italian. “I couldn’t believe how flavorless they were.”
Carmellini urges readers to purchase fresh local herbs and dry them at home, which protects flavor intensity. Home-dried herbs stored in sealed, airtight mason jars will last up to 6 months, he notes.
The easiest way to dry organic herbs is the method Carmellini favors:
- Lay them on a baking sheet, without overlapping them.
- Let the pan sit in your kitchen for 3–5 days, until herbs become brittle and gray-green.
- Remove the dried leaves by rubbing them off their branches.
If you’re an organic gardener, plant your favorite herbs outdoors (or in indoor containers). You can then dry them to keep your pantry well stocked.
- Growing an Indoor Herb Garden
- No Room for an Organic Garden?
- Salt Shaking
- Replacing Lawns with Edible Gardens
- Victory Garden Revival: Green Living, Green Savings
Read More:Dry Your Own Organic Herbs
February 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Roasted chicken. Mashed potatoes. A side of peas.
These dishes may make regular appearances at your dinner table.
But what happens when they become a bit boring?
You can use herbs like organic rosemary to take them from bland to brilliant.
Here are some easy culinary tips from the herb and spice experts at McCormick:
- Make a succulent Mediterranean roasted chicken. Before roasting, brush chicken with olive oil. Sprinkle all over with 2 teaspoons crushed rosemary leaves, 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, sea salt and ground black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.
- Sprinkle vegetables like asparagus, spinach and tomatoes with crushed rosemary leaves.
- Add crushed rosemary leaves and garlic salt (1/4 teaspoon each) to hot cooked peas or green beans.
- Stir crushed rosemary leaves and garlic powder (1/2 teaspoon each) and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper into 4 cups of hot cooked mashed potatoes.
- Dress up dinner rolls. Just before baking homemade, frozen or ready-to-bake dinner rolls, brush the tops with olive oil, and sprinkle with crushed rosemary leaves and sea salt.
- A hearty vegetable omelet is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sprinkle the vegetable filling with crushed rosemary leaves before adding it to the pan.
- Perk up homemade or store-bought chicken salad with crushed rosemary leaves. Serve as a sandwich filling or on a bed of greens.
- 8 Must-Have Organic Herbs and Spices
- Organic Rosemary
- Simple Additions to Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- Herbs and Spices: A Dash of Good Health
Read More:7 Ways to Spice It Up With Rosemary
February 10th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
As a perennial herb, rosemary is a mainstay in Mediterranean cuisines—from Spanish and French to Italian, Greek and Moroccan.
It has long been associated with health benefits like memory enhancement. In fact, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says: “There’s rosemary. That’s for remembrance.”
A growing body of research links the antioxidants and phytonutrients found in rosemary “with an array of promising health benefits,” says K. Dun Gifford, founder and president of Oldways, a Boston-based food think tank. Known as carnosic and rosmarinic acids, these antioxidants may protect us against free radicals and fight cancer.
In Remedies magazine, Contributing Editor Annie Graves explains:
“A remarkable antioxidant, rosemary may help prevent arteriosclerosis. It stimulates blood circulation and enlivens the nervous system, serving as a natural restorative.”
Rosemary, she notes, also helps relieve gas and promotes a healthy appetite.
Seasoning foods with organic rosemary can reduce the need for salt at the dinner table. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends adding it to fish, salad dressings, bread dough, mushrooms, roasted potatoes and tomato dishes.
5 Recipes to Inspire You
- Dubliner White Bean and Rosemary Dip
- Roasted Vegetable Medley
- Home-Style Minestrone
- Rosemary-Laced Lemonade Tea
- Blue Cheese Cabernet Organic Hamburgers
Read More:Organic Rosemary
January 5th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The spice aisle at my local natural and organic food store is a culinary playground, and I’m always intrigued by the various spice blends designed to give homemade dishes an international flair.
Companies that produce these blends carefully combine up to a dozen herbs and spices to create foolproof seasonings that make life easy for home cooks.
In my experience, however, spice blends can be much more expensive than their individual components. That’s why I tend to buy individual herbs and spices to create my own blends. This also allows me to buy readily available organic ingredients, control the amount of salt used and tweak the recipe to suit my individual preferences (i.e., more pepper, less garlic).
Our recent post for Southwestern Gluten-Free Cornbread Dressing called for 2 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning. Instead of purchasing a bottle of the Cajun blend, I prefer to take the do-it-yourself approach. Dressing recipe creator Dana Jacobi (The Essential Best Foods Cookbook, New American Plate Cookbook) shares her DIY recipe here.
Simply combine the ingredients, and store them in a glass jar. You can quadruple the recipe so it’s ready to use when you’re seasoning meat, veggies, egg dishes, rice and other side dishes.
FYI: I reduce salt by 50% when preparing a spice blend. You can always add more salt, if your palate screams out for it.
For an Indian-flavored blend, check out Taj Rub.
DIY Cajun Seasoning
Makes 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Recipe courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research
Read More:DIY Organic Cajun Seasoning