Has your herb garden given you a bumper crop of delicious fresh herbs this summer? If it’s still growing strong and you have more fresh herbs than you can eat at once, one great way to preserve them other than drying is making pesto. I make big batches of it with my basil and parsley from the garden and freeze it in 1/4-cup servings in jelly jars. It lasts 3 to 6 months in the freezer, so it’s wonderful to have on hand for those busy weeknights when you need a really quick dinner.
Pesto is so versatile that there are endless ways to prepare healthy, flavorful meals with it. There’s nothing like that garden fresh flavor no matter what time of year it is! One of my favorite recipes is this easy, creamy basil pesto sauce. It takes minutes to make a nourishing meal with it that hits the spot when you’re tired from a busy day. I guess you could say it’s a healthier comfort food! I like to serve it over pasta tossed with sautéed broccoli and mushrooms.
- 12 to 16 oz. organic tortellini (or your favorite type of pasta)
- 1/4 cup pesto (my homemade recipe is here)
- 3/4 cup organic milk
- 5 tablespoons organic butter (preferably grass-fed)
- 1 tablespoon organic whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup fresh grated organic parmesan cheese
- Your favorite sautéed veggies (broccoli and mushrooms are delicious with this sauce)
- Cook pasta according to package instructions.
- Add milk and butter to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and whisk in flour. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens.
- Stir in pesto and parmesan cheese.
- Pour sauce over pasta and gently stir until pasta is coated. Toss in veggies, if using.
My 4 year old daughter is a magnet for mosquitoes. Our bite prevention measures have included long sleeved light colored clothing and a good natural insect repellent, but no matter what, she always ends up getting bitten. Not only that, she also has severe reactions to the bites. They’re itchy and hot, swell to golf-ball-size, and sometimes even cause her to develop a mild fever. My homemade natural anti-itch cream works well to calm her symptoms, but I have been desperate to find a solution that works to keep bugs off of her in the first place!
Mozi-Q to the rescue! If you or someone you know is a magnet for mosquitoes and are driven “buggy” by not finding a safe repellent that works, I would highly recommend trying it. One of my dear readers told me about it via a blog post comment, and I’m so grateful. I’m also happy to have the opportunity to tell all of you about this product, and to give you the opportunity to win a package of it to try! Here’s the quick scoop:
Mozi-Q is manufactured by Xerion Dispensary, a environmentally and socially responsible homeopathic formulation company in Calgary, Alberta. It’s a homeopathic formula in the form of a chewable pill. Perhaps the first thing you’re wondering is, what does it taste like?? It tastes almost like nothing. It just has a very slight sweetness to it. The pills are small, about the size of the tip of your pinky finger. It contains 5 homeopathic remedies, which combine to cover the susceptibility of more people (mosquito magnets included.)
- Ledum palustre
- Urtica urens
Mozi-Q is safe for kids of ages 1 and up. It’s GMO-free, completely non-toxic and natural. The low homeopathic potencies do not interfere with other homeopathic treatments, and there are no interactions with medications or other treatments for bug bites.
I really only have a short review based on our experiences. Mozi-Q works! Meaning, the mosquitos don’t swarm, and if the pesky buggers do bite, the reaction is less severe…even for my daughter. I still apply my topical natural bug repellent, but combined with Mozi-Q, my mission is finally accomplished! I can watch my daughter play freely outside without worrying so much, and she doesn’t have to suffer from multiple severe bites. The kids aren’t turned off by the flavor of the slightly sweet pills, so that’s definitely a bonus…they’ll actually take them.
Before you scroll down and enter to win a free package of Mozi-Q (60 pills,) here are a few more important points:
- It works within 30 minutes of taking it.
- There are no side effects.
- Besides mosquitoes, it works against other bugs such as ticks and head lice.
- Starting with a half hour before going outdoors, it can be taken every 2 to 3 hours.
If you’re a mosquito magnet, you can understand that words can’t describe the relief in finding an effective, safe repellent!
If your herb garden is giving you the gift of too many fresh herbs at once, drying them is such a wonderful option because you can enjoy them for months as you cook with them. I was a little overwhelmed the other week when I noticed that my little herb bed was overflowing and in need of a major haircut. I’ve been cooking with these tasty fresh herbs like crazy and making pesto like there’s no tomorrow, but I still couldn’t keep up and I didn’t want to let a single stem go to waste! I’ll show you how I dried 3 types of herbs in one day’s time. I used the oven drying method for my basil, oregano and parsley, which I thought worked very well. The herbs are so much more flavorful and fragrant than even the best quality store-bought organic dried herbs!
I set aside a Sunday with my little girls to dry our herbs. Here’s how it went:
- We cut our herbs from the garden and brought them inside right away. The best time to cut herbs is in the morning before the plants have been stressed by hot sun.
- We rinsed them, carefully shook as much water off into the sink as possible, very gently patted them dry with clean towels, then laid them flat on the towels until they were completely dry. Note: it’s important to not bruise the leaves while rinsing and drying, because bruising releases the oils (flavors) of the plant.
- We removed the leaves from the stems. This is such a perfect job for little hands! My girls loved helping, and their hands are the perfect size for removing tiny leaves.
- We placed the leaves in single layers on baking sheets. (I use these silicone mats on my baking sheets.)
- Each tray of herbs went into the oven (middle rack,) heated to 175 degrees F. I put 2 trays in the oven at a time.
- The key is to vent the oven door (I placed a dish towel in the door to prop it open slightly.) If the herbs truly bake, their essential oils are destroyed and the flavor deteriorates.
- The parsley and oregano trays were in the oven for 1 hour until they were dried. Basil took a bit longer, at 1 hour and 20 minutes. You’ll want to keep a very close eye on the herbs while they’re drying.
- You’ll know your herbs are completely dry when you can crumble them between your fingers.
To store dried herbs, put them in air-tight jars and keep them in a cool, dark place. They’ll last for up to a year, however, I’ve noticed that flavor starts to deteriorate after around 6 months.
Another other herb drying method I would recommend is hanging. Carefully wash and pat dry the stems of herbs, then tie them into small bundles with a maximum of 10 stems per bundle. They need to be hung in a dark, dry and warm area with good air circulation for around 3 weeks.
Are you preserving herbs from your garden this season?
Join me tomorrow for International Can-It-Forward Day, a time to celebrate home canning! The event is hosted by Jarden Home Brands and is taking place in New York, at Brooklyn Borough Hall Farmers Market. There will also be special events taking place in Canada, Australia and South Africa.
Whether you are a new or experienced canner, there will be something for you at this event! It will be filled with canning demos where the most popular home canning recipes will be shared. Special guest Hugh Acheson, renowned chef and Bravo’s Top Chef judge, will be answering viewer questions in real-time! Twenty five farmers markets across the country will also be hosting Can-It-Forward Day celebrations.
In addition to the canning demos, there will be segments on crafting, herb gardening and the brand’s new drinkware line. You’ also won’t want to miss the attempt to capture a Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Mason Jar Mosaic.
I’m looking forward to celebrating International Can-It-Forward Day with you! Don’t forget to click here and enter to win a fabulous prize pack full of Ball® Brand products!
With our garden and farmer’s market overflowing with the delicious tastes of summertime this month, we’re in the midst of a canning frenzy to preserve the bounty before it’s gone! If you’ve ever canned your own harvest or received precious jars of goodness from a loved one, you know that it’s such a gift to enjoy the summertime flavors in the middle of the winter. Spreading some homemade blueberry jam on your pancakes or making chili with diced tomatoes from the garden is comforting when summer seems so far away. Okay, enough daydreaming, time to get to work on canning these organic goodies from the garden!
I was ecstatic when this big box of Ball® Brand products arrived on my doorstep, and I knew it would make preserving our veggies and herbs much more convenient and fun! In honor of International Can-It-Forward Day, I’m happy for the opportunity to review each one of these products, and to give you a chance to win a box of Ball® Brand canning items just like this one.
Let’s get started with jars. We have tomatoes and cucumbers coming out of our ears, and we’ve been busy making bread and butter pickles, pickle relish, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes like there’s no tomorrow. We also have pounds and pounds of frozen blueberries and peaches to make delectable jams from. I absolutely LOVE these gorgeous limited edition green tinted jars that commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Ball brothers’ “Perfection” Jar. They make our preserved pickles, tomatoes and jams look even more beautiful, and won’t these goodies make wonderful gifts this Christmas? They come in both pint and quart sizes. The giveaway includes a case of each size!
Next is this super convenient way to keep garden-fresh herbs. Sometimes it’s tough for me to run down to the garden every time I want to cut some fresh herbs, because it’s quite a hike and I have two very young children. Or sometimes, the herbs need to be cut before their flavor turns bad, and I’m not ready to use them all at once. This Ball® Fresh Herb keeper helps cut herbs stay fresh for up to 2 weeks! Stems and roots stay fresh in water to retain flavor and texture. I love that I have easy access to my fresh herbs in my kitchen, and I don’t have to worry about them going bad nearly as quickly.
During the winter when my supply of fresh herbs is much less, I love using my garden herbs that I dried. Sometimes, though, my dried herb stash becomes difficult to use since I have very little storage space in my kitchen. Imagine that; I blog about food and my spice cupboard is a mess! These Ball® Dry Herb Jars came to my rescue. They stack so nicely for neat storage of dried herbs in drawers and cupboards, and they’re great for keeping spice blends and rubs, too. I also love the convenient shaker caps. The holes are bigger than the ones on other shaker caps that I’ve used, which is nice for the coarsely chopped herbs.
No matter how many different types of fresh herbs you’re growing, and whether you just have a small amount or a large garden bounty, you’ll love preserving them by freezing them into cubes. You can freeze them in butter, oil or even water or broth, and the uses for them are countless! I’ve used the cubes for sautéed veggies, pesto, soups, dips, marinades and even beverages. I’m happy to have my new Ball® Brand Frozen Herb Starters because I love that they have lids to help prevent freezer burn and they also come with a labeling template, making them more convenient than other trays I’ve used. I have peace of mind that they’re made of non-toxic silicone and they’re BPA-free.
If you often cook with fresh herbs at home, these Ball® Brand 5 Blade Herb Scissors will be your best friend in the kitchen. They conveniently and evenly cut herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro. No more putting your fingertips in danger with a knife while trying to quickly chop herbs! The other major bonus of these scissors is that they clean up in a snap. The slotted end cover makes cleaning and storing simple and easy.
Last but not least, the Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It’s a 125-page book that will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about getting started with preserving. It includes equipment info, step-by-step instructions and tons of recipes. It’s a good book to keep in your kitchen whether you’re new to canning, or a seasoned pro. It’s a book that will be passed down to your grandchildren someday! I use my grandmother’s recipes which she adapted from her Ball® Brand book, and I like having this book for updated info and recipes.
Enter the giveaway in the widget at the very bottom of this post, and you could win all 6 of the Ball® Brand products mentioned above!
International Can-It-Forward Day
Before I conclude, I want to mention to stay tuned for International Can-It-Forward Day, hosted by Jarden Home Brands Bravo’s Top Chef judge, Hugh Acheson! August 16th will be a day to celebrate home canning, where foodies will be able to connect via online and in-person activities. The event will take place in New York, at Brooklyn Borough Hall Farmers Market, but there will also be special events taking place in Canada, Australia and South Africa. You’ll be able to view the webcast right here on my blog, so come back on the 16th to take a look! There will be canning demos highlighting the most popular home canning recipes, and Chef Acheson will be answering viewer questions in real-time. There will also be 25 farmers markets across the country hosting Can-It-Forward Day celebrations!
I think it’s so great that home canning has made a huge comeback. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding, healthy and satisfying. I love that my little girls and I are canning with my mom, like my mom used to do with my grandma. The Ball® Brand has helped families create memories for years, and I thank them for keeping canning traditions alive!
We planted plenty of extra tomato plants this year with high hopes of having a bumper crop to can. We’re excited to have a pretty good harvest, even though we didn’t have quite as much luck as we did with cucumbers (we ended up with quite a few beautiful jars of bread and butter pickles and pickle relish!) Between our garden and our local farm who has so kindly given us extra canning tomatoes in our weekly CSA share, we’ve been canning enough jars of diced tomatoes to last through the winter.
All it takes is about 12 pounds of tomatoes to make 6 pint jars of diced or crushed tomatoes. If you don’t have enough tomatoes in your garden to can, we would suggest checking with local farmers at your farmer’s market because often times they will sell bulk amounts of tomatoes at a discounted price. The best tomatoes for making canned diced or crushed tomatoes are very meaty and flavorful. A few examples to mention are Opalka, Classica and La Roma. As you can see, our organically grown tomatoes have imperfections on the skin. The tomatoes are perfectly fine, and when the skin comes off, you can’t tell that there were blemishes. It’s important, however, to remove any rotted darkened areas from the meat of the tomatoes before canning them.
Since tomatoes ripen all at once, canning needs to be done pretty quickly. I’m not going to sugarcoat…it’s a lot of work to do a large amount of jars, but it’s incredibly worth it to open up that summer goodness in the middle of the winter! Homemade canned tomatoes are so much healthier than store-bought because you can make sure they don’t contain any additives, and the glass jars are also safer than cans because they don’t leach chemicals. (Ball® Brand now makes BPA-free lids for their jars.)
This is the tried and true water bath method of canning diced or crushed tomatoes. The preparation takes a little bit of time, but grab a couple of friends and some good snacks and wine, and I promise you’ll have a blast canning your tomatoes and making memories!
This is the way my grandmother always used to can her tomatoes, and also the way my mom has taught me. There’s an extra ingredient to increase the richness of the diced tomatoes. These homemade diced or crushed tomatoes are extra-wonderful in chili, soups, pasta dishes, and pretty much any recipe that calls for them, really! Words can’t describe how much better homemade canned tomatoes taste than store-bought ones.
If you’re new to the water bath canning method, here’s a list of the canning supplies you’ll need:
- Water bath canner with rack
- Canning tools (tongs, magnetic lid lifter, funnel, air bubble spatula)
- Wide mouth 16 oz. (pint) canning jars
- BPA-free jar lids (new Ball® brand lids are BPA-free)
- Candy thermometer
Are you canning tomatoes this year? How many jars would you like to make for the winter?
- 12 pounds of organic tomatoes, peeled
- 6 tablespoons organic lemon juice
- 2 cups organic tomato juice (optional)
- Wash and dry 6 canning jars.
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Place jars on a baking sheet and bake in oven for at least 20 minutes to sterilize.
- Fill a small saucepan with water and add jar lids and rings. Place on the stovetop over low to medium heat and bring water to 180 degrees F. A candy thermometer works best to watch the temperature.
- To peel the tomatoes by blanching, first cut an "x" on the bottom of each tomato.
- Place tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 45 seconds. Promptly remove tomatoes from boiling water and add to a large bowl of ice water. Let stand in ice water for 3 minutes. Remove from water and place tomatoes on a clean surface.
- After blanching, the tomato skins will come right off when you peel them by hand.
- Dice the tomatoes into 1/2" to 1" pieces. Cut off any discolored/rotted spots. Add the pieces to a colander and squeeze some of the liquid out.
- Add tomatoes to a large stock pot and bring to a simmer. Add tomato juice if using. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. The longer the tomatoes simmer, the thicker the consistency. Note: For a more crushed tomato consistency, use a wooden spoon to gently crush the tomatoes while they are simmering.
- Remove jars from the oven and set on a towel. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar. Ladle the tomatoes into the jars, leaving a 1/2" space at the top.
- Slide a flat spatula around the edges of the filled jars to remove air bubbles.
- Using a damp washcloth, thoroughly wipe the tops of the jars clean (this helps the lids seal.)
- Using a magnetic lid lifter, lift lids and rings one by one out of the saucepan of water. Set lids on top of jars and finger-tighten rings (do not over-tighten or lids will not seal properly.)
- Add jars to the water bath rack and lower into the boiling water. There should be about 1" of water covering the jars. If there is too much, remove some with a ladle. Cover with lid.
- Process for 40 minutes, then lift jars out using tongs. Set them on a clean towel to cool. Lids will be slightly concave (curving down in the center) when they are sealed.
Every year I savor the precious month during the summer when we can eat juicy, sun-warmed tomatoes right off the vine. We’ll enjoy that quintessential flavor in the wintertime when we cook with our garden tomatoes that we canned, but nothing quite beats perfectly ripened, fresh tomatoes! The type of tomato that has been most plentiful in our garden this year is the Siberia. It’s 2-3″ in diameter and has a delicious, deep flavor. These tomatoes taste amazing in salads and sandwiches, but my favorite way to prepare them is making them into little bite-sized appetizers.
You’ll really experience the garden-fresh flavors of summer when you taste these garden herb and goat cheese stuffed tomatoes. These are the flavors to savor during the few precious tomato-harvesting weeks of the season!
- 12 organic tomatoes (around 2-4" in diameter)
- 2 tablespoons organic olive oil
- 2 organic garlic cloves, minced
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups organic spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup organic goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup organic whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato juice (reserved after scooping out the tomatoes)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Wash and dry tomatoes, then slice tops off and carefully scoop out just enough flesh to make room for stuffing. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the juice. (A grapefruit spoon works great for the scooping.)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, breadcrumbs, black pepper, herbs and tomato juice.
- Heat olive oil over low to medium heat. Sauté garlic until just fragrant, then add shallots. When the shallots are barely tender, add the spinach and sauté until wilted.
- Add the sautéed mixture to the goat cheese mixture and combine well. Spoon into each tomato.
- Place stuffed tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or I use a baking dish with sides to help keep the tomatoes upright.
- Sprinkle stuffed tomatoes with grated parmesan cheese.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until thoroughly heated through.
My girls have had so much fun in the garden this year! They’ve been by my side helping ever since we put in our 9 raised garden beds. They helped plant seed potatoes and garlic, and then helped plant seeds when we started them inside last winter. It was so much fun watching their excitement when the seeds sprouted, and when we planted the seedlings outdoors. Of course, the absolute most fun they’ve had thus far is harvesting! They love to dig right into the dirt, and squeal when they pull up a potato or a carrot. It was priceless to see them jumping up and down with pure joy when they saw the first tomatoes turning orange.
As a mama, I am so proud to see my young daughters learning the value of nurturing the environment, growing healthy food, and developing healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime for them. It melts my heart to hear my oldest say, “Mama, what are we going to pick from the garden to eat for dinner today?”
I was so happy when I was given the chance to review the book A Pea with a Purpose by Michelle Voizin. I knew that it would be a perfect addition to our family book collection, especially since my girls have been loving their books about gardens so much lately. This book particularly stands out, with its beautiful, detailed, vibrant illustrations. It is an adorable story about an organic pea named Perry, who is on a journey to inspire children to be excited about their own gifts and purposes in life. It’s a story that celebrates family values and the organic farm to table movement. My daughters, ages 2 and 4, are drawn in by the animated expressions on the peas in the book. They now make up their own stories about the veggies we pick in our garden.
For children and their families, A Pea with a Purpose sets the important example of eating healthy, chemical-free organic foods and respecting our environment. What a wonderful way to share this message with the children of the world!
Enter below to win a copy of A Pea with a Purpose for your family or someone you love! You will receive one softcover book, along with a downloadable Ebook.
A couple of weeks ago in our CSA share, we had some of the best tasting butter bibb lettuce we’ve ever had. It was the perfect kind for making these delicious Thai-inspired lettuce wraps. If you often have moments where you crave Thai food, and like me, do not have a real food Thai restaurant in your area, I think you’ll love to have this healthy recipe for quick tangy chicken lettuce wraps in your arsenal! The Thai-inspired tangy peanut sauce is so flavorful with the chicken, and the crispiness of the butter bibb lettuce is the perfect refreshing complement in this dish. Even better, it’s easy and simple to make.
I’ve found it to be a challenge to create some of my favorite Thai dishes at home. This is because in order for me to realistically make them at home often, they need to be quick and easy, include easy-to-find real food ingredients, and not break the budget. This is one dish that we make whenever we have delicious butter bibb lettuce. In fact, I’m planning on growing a fall crop in the garden particularly for this recipe!
What are some of your favorite Thai-inspired recipes that you make at home?
- 1 ½ pounds organic free range chicken breasts, cooked and sliced into small strips
- 2 heads of organic butter bibb lettuce
- 1 tablespoon organic olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup organic peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons organic lime juice
- 1 tablespoon organic raw honey
- 1 tablespoon organic soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon organic hot sauce (optional)
- 2 tablespoons organic tomato paste
- ½ to ¾ cups water
- ½ cup organic scallions
- ¼ cup shredded organic carrots
- Thoroughly wash and dry largest bibb lettuce leaves, and set aside. The smaller leaves are good for kid-sized portions.
- Sauté garlic in olive oil over low-medium heat, until just fragrant.
- Make sure heat is set to low. Add peanut butter, lime juice, honey, soy sauce, hot sauce and tomato paste. Stir well until combined. Gradually add water to thin the consistency of the sauce.
- Add cooked chicken strips.
- Add more water if needed, so the sauce easily coats the chicken. You may need more or less water than stated above. Keep stirring over low heat until thoroughly heated through. At the last minute, stir in half of the scallions.
- Spoon chicken mixture onto the bibb lettuce leaves. Garnish with shredded carrots and remaining scallions.
Before you toss your glass bottles into the recycling bin, check out how pretty and functional they are in the garden! I’ve been looking for the perfect garden markers for a while. I have a set of beautiful metal markers, but they are expensive if I want to buy enough for my large garden. Painted stones are a wonderful idea for garden markers, but my little girls love to play with stones at the moment…they don’t leave them in the garden for long! I’ve been scrolling through Pinterest and nothing has really caught my eye that would stand up to the weather elements that we have here. The perfect solution has been sitting there in our recycling bin. Here are my DIY upcycled glass bottle garden markers, and here’s how quick and easy they are to make!
- The mini glass bottles (such as half-sized wine bottles or beer bottles) work well because they don’t take up as much room in the garden as full-sized wine bottles do. They also work great in pots.
- I like the chalkboard paint label look, so I chose black and white. I used this kind of non-toxic glass paint. I used “Beetle Black” and “Wedding Cake White.”
- Using small craft brushes, paint the labels onto the clean glass, first painting the black label and letting it dry, then painting the white details.
- Bake the paint on by placing the bottles in a non-preheated oven, then setting the temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake them for 30 minutes at 350 and leave them in the oven to completely cool to room temperature.
- Place corks in the ends of the bottles to prevent soil and moisture from getting in.
- Tuck the bottles neck-down tightly into the soil. They’re easy to take out when they need to be moved around the garden.
I love it when DIY projects turn out well and trash truly becomes treasure. My painting isn’t perfect, but imperfection is beautiful in a rustic garden scene!
What are your favorite ideas for labeling your garden?