Basil- For A Moment More & How To Make An Herbal Vinegar

As I left out on my morning run, for the first time this year I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my t-shirt and wind-pants with a cap on my head.  For us here in East Texas, that is just almost cold.  I could see my breath but there was no frost on the ground, just a heavy dew.  Oh, but how brilliantly the dew shone in the early morning sun with the reds and golds of the leaves finally beginning to show.  I was not the only one feeling invigorated by this Autumn morning, as I ran by the field across from our place, the resident horse came galloping up to the fence and ran along with me until she ran out of field.  Some days, it is an effort to choose to run but not today.

purple basil and kale

One thing the morning did tell me was that basil and it’s other hot weather friends are not long for this world.  So, in preparation for the influx of herbs & peppers that are about to line my drying racks and the hall (I have to make use of the space I have so I have fishing line strung down the hall to hang herbs on) I am getting the jars and vinegar’s ready to go.  Making herbal vinegar is an easy process, they make wonderful gifts and they add so much to your kitchen prowess.  A pork loin marinated in basil vinegar tastes like something from a five star restaurant.

purple basil and vinegar

For the most part, which herb you use and which vinegar to use are completely up to you and your taste buds.  A good place to start is with white wine vinegar and basil.  This will make a wonderful vinaigrette or marinade.  If you have purple basil, you will have the most beautiful purple/pink vinegar you ever laid your eyes on as seen in the above picture.  The purple basil is Dark Opal and the green is Sweet Genovese- both of these are the standard type basil flavor with which you would make pesto or spaghetti sauce.  Health food stores will generally have better prices on large quantities of vinegar in its various forms.

The recipe below calls for chives, if you don’t have any you can leave that off.  If you have not been growing herbs long enough to have this much material to cut from, you can purchase fresh herbs at your local farmer’s market.  Remember, any flavors you like together will go together in the vinegar such as rosemary and garlic, oregano, basil, and sun/oven roasted tomatoes.  While learning the way, start with small batches this way if it tastes bad, you didn’t lose much.  However, every mistake is a lesson learned and experience is the best teacher.

For sterilizing your jars, wash them with hot soapy water, rinse and dry in a 225′ oven for 15 minutes or use a dishwasher.

 

Basil, Chive, & Lemon Vinegar

Zest of ½ lemon

5 Basil Leaves

10 stalks of chives

1 cup white vinegar ( any type such as rice or wine)

 

Zest lemon, crush or chop basil and chives, place in a clean dry jar.  Pour vinegar in and cap- vinegar should cover all the herbs completely add more if needed. After 24 hours add more vinegar if the herbs have soaked up the vinegar.  Vinegar is ready to go after 24 hours, but the flavor will develop the longer it sits so 10 -14 days is fine too.  Strain herbs out and compost them.  Store  vinegar in a cool dark place, it will keep indefinitely.

Making these things at home is a safe activity- it has been being done since ancient times.  Use good sense, clean and dry utensils and jars- moisture is your enemy- and all will be well.  Remember- if it is growing funny things, bubbling like it is boiling but there is no heat or it smells raunchy- throw it out.  Please consult your county extension office if you would like more detailed information on canning.

herbal vinegars

 

The choices are endless, just make certain that you label and date all your creations at the time to place them in the jars.  Trust me, you won’t be able to remember it later!

Garlic & Texas

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas you need to plant is in September, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in September, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine.

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop.

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Happy Planting!

garlic bulbgarlic plantinggarlic young plantgarlic bloom

Beef Carbonnade- Flat Out Good Food

This beef in beer stew is just flat out good.
This beef in beer stew is just flat out good.

I have a thing for cookbooks.  Some people have a hard time passing up a great pair of shoes, I have a hard time passing up an appealing cookbook.  More often than not, I only try a handful of recipes but if I find one outstanding recipe that makes the book purchase more than worth it.  Two years ago I picked up a cookbook, The Food Of France.  The book was worth the price just for the pictures. However, I found many good recipes in this book and one of them I choose for our Christmas Dinner- Beef Carbonnade.

Beef Carbonnade is a simple dish with only a few ingredients.  What makes this just so good is that the beef is cooked slow so that it is so tender it melts in your mouth with such deep flavor coming from the onion, garlic, herbs and beer.  You need to have the beer to make this recipe taste so good you remember it for a long time.  If you must, you can switch the beer for beef broth, but this will give you a dish that, while still good, is not really all that memorable.

Following is the recipe, however, not exactly like it was in the book.  I know, I am not even French and I am tweaking their recipes- I just can’t help myself.  However, what I changed was the amount of food.  This recipe will feed 6 were as the one in the book will only feed four.  I did also change the amount of garlic.  One clove is never enough. The recipe below calls for 6 onions- these are medium size onions.  If you have been to the Farmer’s Market and have come home with onions the size of large grapefruits you can use 4 of those if you want.  The onions cook down in to this thick sauce that is just mouthwatering good especially when soaked up with some wonderful french bread.  So, the more the better.  I use a cast iron dutch oven, but you can use whatever you have in your kitchen.

Beef Carbonnade

1 oz butter (real butter, not margarine)

Cubed Beef- so glad I have kitchen help- Jonathan- for this step
Cubed Beef- so glad I have kitchen help- Jonathan- for this step

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

5-6 lb beef rump roast or chuck roast- cubed 1 inch in size

6 onions

5 garlic cloves – crushed

2 tsp of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of plain flour

4 cups of beer (one of the large single cans of a malt beer works great)

4 bay leaves

a small bunch of thyme sprigs

1 loaf of really good french bread

Preheat the oven to 300′    Melt butter in a large skillet with a tablespoon of oil.  Brown the meat in batches over high heat and lift out onto a plate

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, reduce heat to medium.  Add onion and cook for 10 minutes. Add garlic and sugar and cook for another 5 minutes, adding oil by the tablespoon if necessary.  Lift onion out onto a second plate.

Stirring in the flour after the beef and onion have been cooked.
Stirring in the flour after the beef and onion have been cooked.

Reduce heat to low and pour any juices that have drained off of the meat, then stir in the flour.

Remove from the heat and stir in the beer a little at a time stirring well, the beer will foam.  Return to heat and let the mixture gently simmer and thicken.  Season with salt and pepper.

layer meat and onion in a dutch oven, tucking the bay leaves and thyme in between the layers. Season with salt and pepper as you go.

Pour liquid over the meat, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 2.5-3 hours or until the meat is tender.

Serve with the sliced french bread toasted lightly on both sides.

This main dish goes great with potatoes of any kind, green beans  or sweet peas.