Thursday, July 24, 2014

Garden Fresh Basil Mint Pesto

Oh, how projects get started...Someone asked a question on one of the other posts about drying mint,
      ...which made me think about all of the mint in my garden that I haven't used ONCE yet this year
          ...which made me google what I could do with all this mint
               ...which is when I ran across a recipe for a pesto made with mint!

I get to use more basil and the mint at the same time? Score! The recipe also calls for sunflower seeds, and I just happened to have a sunflower ready to be harvested. Love it when that happens!

As you can see, the birds have already been munching on my sunflowers, and I was planning on giving the rest to the chickens. They will be disappointed that I found this recipe. So, I gathered the sunflower seed into a bowl.

The I harvested the mint and basil (making sure to pick extra as a treat for the rabbits- it is so easy to get side-tracked when playing in the garden). By the way, I do not recommend for anyone crack open all of the little sunflower seed shells to get the seeds out. It takes forever, and my fingers still hurt. Next time, I will give the sunflower seeds to the chickens and buy the seeds already shelled even though it was fun to use our own seeds.

The recipe goes together quickly and I love how it turned out. It uses very little oil, which makes it light, and the sweetness of the mint balances out the slightly bitter taste of the basil for a great combination!

If you want a pesto to use with pasta, I recommend the Basil Parsley Pesto, but if you are looking for a dip for crackers or veggie chips, this is the one!

I found the original recipe on the Meghan Telpner Nutritionista's blog, and then tweaked it a little.

 Basil Mint Pesto
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pecans, toasted on 350 degrees for 10 minutes
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Yep, it's that easy!

What else do you use mint for???

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Dry Fresh Parsley

My parsley is looking like it's about to bolt, so it's time to harvest what I can and dry it. It is a pretty simple process, and I keep it simple. No expensive dehydrators and no heating up the kitchen using the oven for hours. However, it does take time, so don't expect to use the parsley to cook anything today!

First take your handy garden clippers and snip off all of the stems that are ready to be harvested. Cut the stems all the way at the bottom of the plant, and work from the outside of the plant to the inside, leaving the newest leaves to continue growing for more produce later.

Wash the leaves off thoroughly and spin them in a salad spinner to get most of the water off. Hang them upside down in dry place that is out of the way, which for me is the laundry room.

The stems shrink when drying so if you tie them together they will probably end up falling on the floor. I use tape or office clips to hold mine together.

After a few weeks of drying (depending on the humidity) the parsley should be ready. Once the leaves are crunchy and dry take them off the stems and put them in the food processor. Chop, chop, and all done!

Once the parsley is chopped you will immediately know the difference between home-dried parsley and store bought parsley...the SMELL! I have bought and used a lot of parsley in my life, but it has never smelled even remotely as amazing as this! I'm pretty sure I can't go back to the store bought stuff now...

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to grow a year's supply of green onions for under $1

If more people knew this trick, the grocery store would quit selling green onions! I use a lot of green onions while cooking, and while each bunch is less that a dollar, it adds up over time. So how about buying one bunch and having it last all year? Or even for the rest of your life? I'm not exaggerating...

Next time you buy a bunch of green onions, cut off the white ends about an inch from the bottom. Place the bottoms in a glass of water until a few roots begin to grow. You will see the green onions regrowing literally within hours!

Once you see roots, transplant the green onions into a pot or the garden. As you need green onions, simply cut off the leaves about an inch above the level of the dirt. The plants will regrow to full size in a little over a week.

One time I didn't need any green onions for about a month and let them grow, when I finally harvested the leaves they were two feet long and the bunch weighed almost a pound! No problem, I just chopped them up and froze them in a gallon sized ziplock bag.

Since I'm gardening in zone 9, the green onions live year round! They even bloom in the spring, and if you leave the buds on the plants, they will drop their seeds and start a new crop all on their own. Now you know that one bunch from the grocery store is more than enough for the whole family!

Homemade Basil Parsley Pesto Recipe

Stop the madness! How can throwing a few seeds in an empty spot in the garden turn into my raised bed being overrun by basil?! 

Okay, so it's not all that dramatic, but I do hate to see anything go to waste, and I have been scrambling to keep up with the enormous harvest of basil that I have had this year. After drying much of it to use throughout the year, I still had more that I knew what to do with. 

I had looked at different pesto recipes, but most of them call for pine nuts, which are ridiculously expensive. If I have to spend that much money to be able to use up my fresh harvest from the garden, it kind of defeats the purpose. When I was sharing this problem with my mom, she shared her pesto recipe that doesn't use pine nuts! I'm not sure where she got it, but I'll share it with you :)

Homemade Fresh Garden Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves loosely packed
2 cups fresh parsley leaves loosely packed
7 cloves garlic chopped
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups olive oil

Puree all of the ingredients together in a blender or food processor. It will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or you can freeze it to use when needed. If you do freeze it, make sure to let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before freezing. The recipe makes one pint jar.

I had more basil than parsley, so I used 3 cups of basil and 1 cup of parsley and it still turned out great. Also, I decided to freeze some of mine in an ice cube tray and then put the cubes in a freezer bag so that I could thaw the pesto in serving size portions. I can't wait to use this to make a chicken pesto sandwich or simply mix with spaghetti noodles for a refreshing summer meal. 

How do you make your pesto and what do you use it for?

How to Dry Fresh Garden Basil

Anyone who cooks a lot knows how expensive dried herbs can be, but gardeners know that herbs can be some of the easiest plants to grow in your backyard, especially if you have limited space or use container gardening. A great starter herb is basil. This spring I bought a pack of basil seed for a dollar, and it has taken off! So how do you transform your green leafy plant into the dried herb that you mix into spaghetti sauce?

First, you have to harvest the basil. You can cut back your plant multiple times throughout the season. In fact, each time you cut the plant back, the fuller it will grow back. Cut back the shoots of the plant two thirds of the way down before it begins to bloom. If there are any blooms beginning to form, be sure to pinch them off before you dry the leaves.

Make sure all of the leaves are dry and clean, and then hang the branches upside down in bundles. The stems will shrink as they dry, so if you hang them by wrapping a string or twist tie around the stems then the branches may fall out with time no matter how tight it starts out. What I do is use a zip tie and hang the branches on it at a strong split between the stem and a branch of leaves. This way, no matter how much the stem shrinks, none of my basil ends up on the floor. 

Hang the branches in a dark dry place, (I keep mine in the laundry room), and wait a few weeks. Once the leaves and dry and brittle, they are ready to be chopped up!

Remove each leaf from the branch making sure that the stems are broken off of each one. This takes some time, but no one wants to eat a stem, so its worth it. 

Put all of the leaves in the food processor, and chop away!

Store the herbs in an empty spice container (reused or bought from the store). Label it and you are ready to cook with the best tasting homegrown basil ever!

From my dollar packet of seed I have already harvested 10oz of dried basil so far and my plants are only halfway through the season. And that doesn't count all of the fresh basil that I have used to make pesto this summer. I plan to never buy basil from the grocery store again. 

What do you do with your summer basil?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Baby Rabbits! For meat???

Please don't think that I am a horrible person. If you had told me a year ago that I would be breeding meat rabbits, I would have laughed at you. I'm no bunny killer! Unfortunately, I have discovered that having a little urban homestead and seeing just how self-sufficient we can be on our own backyard is addictive.

We haven't bought eggs from the grocery store this year,
we haven't purchased chicken since last October,
we grow most of our own vegetables and some of our fruit,
so as we consider what we still buy but don't want to, I think of ground beef.

I'm too cheap to pay $7.50/lb for grass fed beef at the farmer's market, but it turns out that rabbits are a lean meat that is very healthy and and easy to raise in a small area. Besides, rabbits are quiet, create the best fertilizer for the garden, 90% of their diet can be greens from the yard, and they multiply like, well, rabbits. The meat can be stewed or ground up and used as a replacement for beef or chicken.

And that rationale was the reason that we bought a male and female New Zealand rabbit. At six months old we bred the rabbits and one month later we were thrilled to see seven little babies in the nesting box!

They are about a week old here, the fur is coming in, and the little ears are the only thing that makes them look more like a rabbit than a hamster.

After ten days they open their eyes for the first time to see and explore the world.

By two weeks old they are already eating greens from the garden on their own and learning to drink from the water bottle. 

At three weeks old we decided to let them play in the yard and meet our chickens. Our chickens were much more scared of the rabbits than the bunnies were of them, but they had a fun time playing together.

What I like most about having rabbits in general is that they are the best composters ever! I give them all of the leftover greens from my garden whether it is carrot and beet tops, finished plants that need to be pulled up, or even leaves and branches from tree and shrub trimmings. In return I get great fertilizer for the garden, and eventually meat as well. I love it when nothing goes to waste!

Look at that cute bunny! Could I ever eat that cute little bunny???

Our first set of babies will now be three months old in a week, and we have a new set of babies playing in the nesting box with mom. The usual age for rabbits to be processed is three months, and I think we will have the courage to go through with our plan of using this homestead investment for meat. I'll let you know how it goes!

What about you? Have you raised meat rabbits? Would you ever try?