Category: gardening

Everyday Dried Herb Blends

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Seasonings and Herbs-5Growing and drying your own herbs guarantees that the herbs you use are always pungent and flavourful  Try a few of the combinations I’ve listed below, and I’m sure you’ll agree. And throw out all those old bottles in the spice cabinet soon! 

Italian Seasoning 

Use this blend to impart an Italian flavour to tomato meat sauces or with vegetables like eggplant.

2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried sage 

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

Bouquet Garni

The idea behind the bouquet garni is to add flavor without little flecks of herbs in the dish. Usually, these are dried herbs or a combination of dried and fresh. They are made into little bundles tied with a string long enough to be tied to the handle of the pot for easy removal. You can use cheesecloth, muslin, or even a tea ball to hold the herbs.

For a muslin bag, cut a 100mm x 100mm (4″x 4″) piece. Place the herbs in the middle and tie up the corners. You can also tucked herbs between two pieces of celery stalk, tied them together, and dropped them into the soup or stew. It is nice to have these bundles all made up and stored in an air-tight jar, or to mix a favorite blend and bundle it when needed. The traditional herbs used in a bouquet garni are a tablespoon each of parsley and thyme and one crumbled bay leaf. I always try to use fresh Italian parsley because I find the dried has little flavor. Here are some other combinations that I like to have on hand:

Stew Bouquet Garni
for stews, soups, meats, and other robust dishes.

1 part rosemary 
1 part thyme 
1 part sage 
1 bay leaf, crumbled 
10 peppercorns

Savory Bouquet Garni

for light soups, stews, stocks, and vegetable dishes.

2 parts marjoram 
1 part savory 
1 part thyme 
1 bay leaf, crumbled 
a few peppercorns

Herb Shaker Blend

This combo can be ground fine and used in a salt shaker. It’s good rubbed on roasts and in hearty stews. Forget the salt.

2 parts rosemary 
2 parts summer savory 
1 part thyme 
1 part marjoram

Curry powder 

Curry leaves are leaves of the kari plant, used to flavour southern Indian cooking. You can find fresh leaves in an Indian speciality food store. Toast in a heated skillet over medium heat until a shade darker and fragrant, about 4 minutes:

6 tbsp whole coriander seeds 
4 tbsp whole cumin seeds 
3 tbsp chana dal or yellow split peas 
1 tbsp black peppercorns 
1 tbsp black mustard seeds 
5 dried red chili peppers 
10 fresh or dried curry leaves (optional)

Combine the toasted spices with 2 tbsp fenugreek seeds. Grind the mixture to a powder in batches in a spice mill or electric coffee grinder. Mix well with 3 tbsp turmeric. 

Herbes de Provence 

2 Tablespoons dried basil

1 Tablespoon dried marjoram

½ Tablespoon dried rosemary

1 Tablespoon dried summer savory

2 Tablespoon dried thyme

2 teaspoon lavender flowers

1 bay leaf 

Country Blend
Perfect for salads, soups, on steamed vegetables, and blended into butter for bread and biscuits. 

This blend makes a terrific substitute for table salt. Spoon onto hot baked potatoes (forget the butter and salt). 

5 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 5 teaspoons dried

4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 4 teaspoons dried

4 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or 4 teaspoons dried

4 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 4 teaspoons dried 

Combine the herbs and store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Fish and Seafood Herbs

Sprinkle onto fish or seafood before baking or grilling.

Add the blend to fish soup and sauce; use for making fish stock for poaching fish and shellfish. 

5 teaspoons dried basil

5 teaspoons crushed fennel seed

4 teaspoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried lemon peel 

Combine all herbs and store in a tightly closed glass jar at room temperature. 

Cajun Blend

Excellent with fish or poultry. Sprinkle it into a baked sweet potato or over steamed vegetables. 

2 tablespoons paprika

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1/2 tablespoon black pepper

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried thyme 

Combine the herbs and spices. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Fines Herbs

Season fish or poultry before cooking. Use in omelets and scrambled eggs.

Sprinkle over hot vegetables. 

3 tablespoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons dried chervil

2 teaspoons dried chives

1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon 

Combine the herbs. Store in a tightly covered jar at room temperature. 

Barbecue Blend

Excellent for beef, lamb, or pork. 

Sprinkle over eggplant or zucchini before grilling. 

3 tablespoons dried basil

3 tablespoons dried oregano

2 bay leaves, finely crumbled

2 tablespoons dried rosemary

1 tablespoon dried savory 

Combine the herbs. Stir in a tightly covered container at room temperature.

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Bay Leaf in my Cooking

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I love using bay in my cooking. Given the Southern Italian (Sicilian) influence that is expressed in my cooking style the

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves

use of bay in my stocks, soups and tomato sauces is a traditional herb for me to use. Bay leaf is also called bay laurel, sweet bay, sweet laurel and laurel leaf. Bay is probably the one herb that most cooks prefer using dried than fresh, which is that I do.

The bay laurel tree is native to Asia Minor but is now grown all over the Mediterraneanas it is well suited to warm climates of the region. There are two main types of bay leaf, Mediterranean bay leaf and the Californian bay leaf. The Californian bay leaf is much stronger in flavour and the Mediterranean bay.

The best place to store your Bay leaves is in a cool, dry place, away from bright light, heat and moisture. Bay is available fresh, dried whole leaves or ground dried leaves.

Add a bay leaf or two to marinades, stock, pâtés, stews, stuffing’s and curries. When poaching fish, add a bay leaf to the water.

Store and leaf or two with rice in a tight fitting jar and the leaf will impart its flavor to the rice when cooked. Don’t over use bay in dishes as it can make whatever you are cooking bitter if too much is used. In general, 1-2 good sized leaves will suffice. If they are medium to small I would use 4 in a stock due to the volume of water they are in.

Bay leaves greatly improve flavour if you are cutting down on salt. Try adding a bay leaf or two when you boil potatoes to replace salt. Always remember to remove the whole bay leaf after cooking in any dish.

Home-made chicken stock or soup in my view would not be homemade without a bay leaf or two. Don’t worry about using the fresh herb, the dried version is usually all that is needed.

Chicken Stock

You will often find chicken carcasses in the meat section at your supermarket. I usually purchase 3-4 at a time and if I am not going to make stock that day I will freeze them so I have them at hand for when I do need to make it. You can take the carcasses straight from the freezer and place in simmering water.

I quite often make chicken stock after roasting a chicken. I will use the carcasses that I have roasted and add 1 kg of fresh chicken wings which I usually purchase when on special and freeze them for this occasion. On special you can usually pick-op the chicken wings for about $4.00 per/kg.

Ingredients

2-3     chicken carcasses
6        garlic cloves cut in half
1        teaspoon whole pepper corns (about 6-8)
1        large onion cut in half
4        celery sticks cut into chunky pieces
2        large carrots chopped into chunky pieces
2        large or 4 medium to small dried bay leaves (you can use fresh if you have them
3        sprigs of fresh rosemary
4        sprigs of fresh parsley
3        sprigs of fresh thyme
3-6lts  cold water
salt to taste
Directions

Place the chicken carcasses, garlic, vegetables, herbs and peppercorns in a large soup or stock saucepan. Add the cold water and bring to the boil. Once it is boiling turn down to a simmer and skim any oil that have risen to the top.

Continue to simmer gentle heat for 3-4 hours, skimming the oils off the top as necessary. When the stock has been simmering for 3-4 hours turn off the heat then pass the stock through a fine sieve or several layers of mutton cloth to remove the ingredients.

Allow to cool for about an hour, then refrigerate. Once the stock is cold it should look clear with a slightly amber in colour. I usually divide it into small plastic containers at this point and freeze it, 500mlfits well in a sandwich zip-lock bag . It will keep in the fridge for about 3 to 4 days and in the freezer for 2-3 months.

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Planting for a Winter Vegetable Garden

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What to plant now

Plant broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach and radish.

Sow broad beans directly into well-limed soil. Peas can also be sown straight into the ground.

Now’s the time to plant onions, including shallots and spring onions. They like a sunny, sheltered spot in limed soil. Shallots and spring onions can easily be grown in containers.

Container Grown Garlic

Container Grown Garlic

Time To Plant Garlic

Plant garlic cloves in a light, well-drained soil in full sun. Dig in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure before planting, or a general fertiliser high in potash.

Garlic from the supermarket is often sprayed with an anti-sprouting chemical, so buy cloves from a garden centre or mail-order nursery. Plant cloves just below the soil surface, 10cm apart.

Plant strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants.

Plant citrus trees in a sunny, well-drained position. In cold areas, wait until after the risk of severe frost has passed.

Feeding and Maintenance

Feed leafy vegetables, including lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, with a high nitrogen fertiliser. Leeks will also benefit from a regular feed.

Cut back and divide globe artichokes.

Divide rhubarb and replant into well-manured soil.

Mulch fruit trees and berry fruit plants to prevent weeds, which compete for nutrients.

Sprinkle a generous handful of Dolomite lime to each square metre around deciduous fruit trees.

In warmer regions, prepare a bed in advance for early potatoes. Dig soil over to aerate it, and add compost. If you have a green crop, dig it in and add some blood and bone. Potatoes like a rich, well-drained soil. Your bed should be ready for planting in a few weeks. Meanwhile, leave seed potatoes in open trays in good light to sprout. Potatoes can be planted out when shoots are 2.5-3cm long.

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Vegetable and Flower Gardening In a Small Area

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Vegetable & Flower Gardening In a Small Area - By Jimmy Boswell – Gluten Free Chef

You don’t need a large area to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. In many respects you don’t even need a garden. Over the years plant breeders have been developing varieties of plants designed to be grown in a small area or in containers. They have also focused on taste and high yields from small plantings.

Positives for container gardening
  • Don’t have to worry about weeds
  • Less garden pest problems
  • Self-watering planters means you can water less
  • Great for porches, decks, patios, and balconies
  • Easy to control soil health

The Small Vegetable Plot – Kids Can Grow

I am a keen advocate of small container gardens. When there is little or no space for a conventional garden planting a few pots and containers with some vegetables and herbs can be very rewarding both in the produce that you grow as well as the fun and happiness that it offers.
It is also something that you can get the kids involved with. Being in containers there is very little weeding required and kids can have their own pots growing things that they like to eat. They can care for their plants, watch them grow and when they harvest, the smiles on their faces is priceless.

I had my own little plot in the main vegetable garden and I remember digging, planting and harvesting, with a little help from Dad. I loved picking my produce and was always proud of what I grew.

Kids Gardens

Always, set space aside in your garden for the kids. Choose plants that are fun and easy to grow. Good plants for kids’ gardens are cherry tomatoes, herbs, sunflowers, and edible plants.

Diversify kids gardening plants to include various smells, textures, and tastes (like Mint) to keep them interested.

Container gardening is also great for kids. If worried about the kids getting messy, container gardening is great choice.

Getting Started

As I have mentioned container gardening does not take a lot of space but there are a few considerations when starting.

Light/Sun

Vegetables need about 6 or more hours of sun each day. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed. In Winter with lower sunshine hours there are a few crops that can survive in light shade, lettuce and other greens, broccoli, but if you can’t provide sun, you might want to reconsider having a vegetable container garden. More so if you are getting kids involved. The last thing you want is to have a poor result for the children.

Water

Vegetables also require regular watering. Without regular water vegetables will not fill out and some, like tomatoes, will crack open if suddenly plumped up with water after struggling without for awhile.

On my deck I have lots of containers with a wide variety of plants. I do not have a tap close so when I need to give them a good watering I have plastic containers that are larger than the pots with the plants in them. I fill these large pots with water and place the plants in them and let them soak. I usually mix some liquid fertilizer in the water and give them a food at the same time.


Soil/Potting Mix

Vegetables need a soil that is rich in organic matter. The potting mix/soil is important to the growth of all plants, but more so with vegetables, because even taste is affected by the quality of the mix you are growing them in.

With a potting mix rich in organic matter it will not only help plants to grow but will also retains moisture.
Specialised Varieties

When you are looking for plants to grow in containers look for plants labeled with terms or words such as patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf.

These will be varieties that have been bread for containers. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.

Herb Gardens

Herbs are generally pretty easy to grow and hearty. They need loose, well drained soil. But do not require a lot of attention. You can inter-plant with vegetables to use herbs for organic pest control. Or plant a separate herb container. It is a good idea to plant perennial herbs like chives, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon.

Planting herbs is a great way to supplement a small vegetable garden, too. Say you just decide on a few tomato plants. Growing herbs expands what you can cook with those tomatoes. Or just slice them fresh with a few sprigs of basil. Fresh foods are good on their own, too!

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