Blog posts categorized as: Food & Drink

Hot Summer Harvest; in-season edibles

Jul 10, 2017

Dallas weather might be blazing hot right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still harvest fresh flavors from the garden or from your local farmer’s market. Summer recipes are easy and flavorful when you use fresh ingredients that are local and in season.

My favorite in-season vegetable (technically a fruit) right now is the heat-loving pepper. Peppers don’t start maturing in the garden until things really heat up. Once they do, peppers such as jalapeno, habanero, pablano, Anaheim and many other hot peppers, will produce en masse. Sweet peppers can be a bit more challenging to grow in our hot summers, but you can still find them in season at the market.

Sweet or hot, you can never have too many on hand. Pickling peppers and making a variety of salsas that include both roasted tomatoes, tomatillos and fruit are all easy and delicious. Think outside the box when it comes to salsas and include unusual flavors from the garden including sweet peppers, basil, or cucumbers.

There are plenty of other in-season fruits and vegetables for the summer table. The hot days beg for cooling recipes that include sorbets, summer salads, and chilled soups. Or, eat your veggies raw to cool yourself down.

Look for these edibles that are also in season now:

Summer Squash (and blossoms!)
Green Beans

Fig Newton Trees

Jun 23, 2016

When we lived in Little Forest Hills, my husband and I had two-mile route we walked regularly through the neighborhood. Around the corner from our house was a lovely mature fig tree. One day, during one of our walks, he commented on the tree and asked what it was. “Well honey, that’s a fig tree” I replied. “You mean, like Fig Newtons??” he asked in all seriousness. “Yes dear, that’s a Fig Newton tree.” I laughed, he laughed, and to this day every fig tree he sees is a “Fig Newton tree”. This story reminds me that not everyone is that well acquainted with figs or how to grow them.

Fig plants need a full sun exposure to produce fruit. Full sun means a minimum of 6-hours of direct sunlight, but more is better. Make sure to find an open site with sun most of the day. If possible, plant figs on a southern exposure where the early developing fruit will be more protected from winter cold.

Mature trees are cold hardy to about 15 or 20 F. However, we often drop below 15 F in Dallas during winter months, which can kill all of the top-growth on your fig plants. Most often they’ll grow back from the root zone, but it does set you back in terms of fruit production.Depending on the variety, they can quickly reach 15 – to 30-feet tall. While figs tolerate many different soil types, good drainage is key. Don’t plant them in low spots in the garden where excess moisture accumulates.
Note that in times of heavy rainfall, plants may experience a growth spurt and push off developing fruit. So if you’ve lost many fruits at one time, it’s most likely due to excess watering or rainfall in a short period of time.

Some of the best common fig varieties for Dallas are ‘Celeste’, which is very cold hardy, ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Alma’, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Kadota’. We have four Fig Newton trees in our current garden, including ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Celeste’ and ‘Italian Black’.

Fig Fact: Common figs are unique in that they do not require pollinators for the fruit to develop. What you’re actually consuming when you eat a fig is modified stem tissue, rather than mature ovary tissue. In common figs, both the male and female flower parts are inside the stem tissue. What you find in the fruit that look like “seeds” are actually just unfertilized ovaries that did not make fruit.

Basil: Plant and Grow Your Own Pesto!

Jun 17, 2016

The basil is coming on strong in the summer garden and it’s time to start harvesting.

While its closest association is with Italian cooking, basil is actually native to India and used extensively in Indian cuisine. This fragrant and flavorful member of the mint family was originally only used for medicinal purposes. Basil tea was used to treat anything from digestive problems to headaches and anxiety. Today, basil is a culinary essential and there a multitude of varieties and flavors to choose from. With more than 150 species of basil currently grown around the world, the choices can be almost overwhelming. Scents and flavors range from lemon and anise to cinnamon. There are large-leafed sweet basils that grow large and bushy, small-leafed upright varieties such as ‘Sweet Aussie’ and even a tiny-leafed miniature variety called ‘Boxwood’. No matter your space or size of container, there is likely a Basil variety just right for you.

Basil ‘Boxwood’ has tiny leaves and a natural globe shape.

If you’re as addicted to making fresh pesto as I am then a regular supply of fresh basil in the garden is a must-have. Once you’ve made your own pesto, store-bought pesto just won’t do. The challenge with basil can be its tendency to go to flower and seed quickly and abundantly, leaving you with leggy plants that won’t continue producing much if any foliage. You’ll need to keep flower buds deadheaded proactively to keep plants producing new leaves. ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ is a variety that doesn’t flower, leaving you with an endless supply of fresh foliage to harvest.

If you haven’t yet planted your basil, you can do so all summer-long. Plants can be grown in patio containers or mixed into your ornamental and vegetable gardens. Basil needs a full sun location and semi-regular waterings to thrive.

Forage for Edible Flowers in Your Garden

Jan 31, 2016

Just because you don’t have a dedicated vegetable garden, doesn’t mean you enjoy eating from plants you’ve grown yourself. Springtime is the perfect time to discover edible flowers already growing in your landscape.

You’re probably familiar with common edible flowers, such as violas, which are often used candied or to decorate pastries. Nasturtium are another common garnish in salads. But you may not be acquainted with some of the other unexpected edible blooms growing right under your nose.

  • Have Gardenias potted on your patio or growing in your shady garden? Gardenia flowers have a fresh, light and sweet flavor.

  • Honeysuckle plants have popped into bloom all over Dallas. These fragrant sweet flowers are perfect tossed into salads for some added sweetness.

  • Are your Citrus plants still blooming? Add a lemony flavor to dishes with a few citrus flowers.

  • Pineapple Guava is one of my favorite “exotic” looking landscape plants. The beautiful flowers taste just like the fruit -sweet!

  • Hibiscus and Marigold flowers are also edible. Hibiscus blooms are wonderful steeped as a tea and marigold flowers have a spicy flavor.

  • Chives are a favorite garden perennial of mine. the flowers taste much like the leaves and make a wonderful garnish.

  • The tiny blue flowers on Rosemary plants are not only pretty, but have a bright savory, sweet flavor.

Have the weeds got you down? If so, you can get your revenge by popping off a few of their heads. Dandelion flowers not only make a potent wine, but are fine food as well.  Fry them up in butter and they taste just like mushrooms. Clover flowers have a sweet licorice flavor.

While there are many other edible-ish blooms in our Dallas landscapes, some contain chemicals that can irritate your system or exacerbate certain conditions.  Many, many of our landscape plants are poisonous if consumed. Also, take note that if you’re harvesting garden flowers to eat, avoid plants that have been sprayed with pesticides.

DON’T EAT THESE FLOWERS: azalea, crocus, daffodil, foxglove, oleander, wisteria

Originally published for DHome Blog.

Cocktail Gardening: Blackberry Basil Mojito

Jul 1, 2014

You can only make so many pies when you're up to your ears in blackberries. Sometimes you just need to throw them in something that's adult rated!  Up next in my parade of garden cocktails is the blackberry and basil mojito.

Fresh picks from the garden: 4 cups fresh blackberries, 1 cup fresh basil leaves. You can also mix fresh plums if you have them...mine are all et up already!

From the store: 4 lemons (mine aren't ripe yet), 3 cups vodka, 1/2 cup sugar to make a simple syrup, club soda

In a bowl, mix blackberries, basil leaves and the juice from the 4 lemons. Stick in the fridge for a day or two. To make the simple syrup, mix 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Make sure sugar is completely dissolved then remove from heat to cool. You can either mix the vodka in with the fruit and let sit in the fridge together or keep them separate until serving time. If you do the later, then when it's time to serve, mix together the fruit, vodka and simple syrup in a punch bowl or large glass container. Mix well.

To serve, ladle 1/3 cup of mixture (that's about the volume of a regular punch ladle) into the glass - be sure to get some of the berries too. Fill the glass halfway with ice, then top with club soda and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Love this one, it's a keeper!

Cocktail Gardening: Blackberry Mint Margarita

Jun 26, 2014

Today's garden cocktail: The blackberry margarita. Or whatever you want to call this concoction!

So I'm overloaded with fresh blackberries. My friend Sarah keeps telling me I need to muddle them into cocktails. So I did.

Fresh picks from the garden: Blackberries, mint

From the store: limes (mine aren't ripe yet!), a nice tequila, cointreau, soda water, agave nectar

I wasn't too scientific about this, but in a shaker, muddle 4 blackberries and 4 mint leaves. Add 1/2 cup of ice, juice of one lime, a shot or two (depending on how strong you like it) of tequila, spash of cointeau and about a teaspoon of agave nectar. Shake well and strain into a glass with ice. Top off with club soda and garnish with more fresh mint.

Fabulous on the patio at the end of the work day. Thanks Sarah!

Tomato Time: What to do with all your tomatoes?

Jun 23, 2014

If you're like me, you might just be up to your ears in tomatoes right now! Here in Texas, we're pulling in our harvest from spring planted tomatoes. In a week or so, it will be time to start planting our fall crop of tomatoes (yes, we have TWO tomato seasons here!) The last thing you want is for any of your homegrown produce to go to waste, so be sure to have a plan for what you'll be making or how you'll preserve the harvest.

What do you do with all your tomatoes? Here are just a few things I've made lately with my abundant harvest:

Marinated tomatoes - a great way to use up the millions of cherry tomatoes you might find yourself with. I like to use rice vinegar flavored with a bit of ginger, garlic, thyme, basil, salt and pepper.

Simple tomato salad - slice up a bunch of fresh tomatoes and arrange with fresh basil from the garden. Mix up a simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. DIVINE!

If you feel like turning the oven on, how about a simple tomato tart? I didn't feel like making actual tart dough, so I just substituted Filo this time around. Olive oil brushed between the layers, sprinkle with some fresh mozarella, basil leaves, cover with sliced tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. In the oven for about 25 minutes at 400F.  Sprinkle on a bit more fresh basil. DELISH!

I think that next up on the tomato menu will be green tomato pickles...enjoy!

Fresh Blackberries: It’s PIE season!

Jun 17, 2014

Pop quiz: What do you do when you're swimming in backyard blackberries?

DUH: Make pie!

Now, I'm not a big sweets fan, but I love fresh fruit and it seemed a crime not to do at least a bit of baking with these fantastic fresh blackberries. My bees worked so hard pollenating the heck out of the bushes this I bake in honor of them! 

I prefer simple thickeners or any other junk added. Just  a simple homemade butter crust, berries, sugar.

It turned out so good that I think I may just have to make another one. Happy Summer!

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