Friday, 30 September 2016

Herbal Leafie Tea

Mint Tea from Scratch

If you have fresh herbs and a dehydrator, this tea is a cinch, provided you have a dehydrator.  If you are growing herbs, or intend to, a dehydrator is a must, and they're not terribly expensive.  Even a certain huge box store that begins with W sells them for around $40. 

Herbal tea could be said to take five months to make, if you aren't growing herbs yet, or about nine hours, if you have them on hand..  It makes enough to stuff a large mason jar that will last you through many, many more cups of tea than a box of herbal tea will do, and it will taste so much better.

If you’re interested, check out the instructions on growing mint  below.  (That’s a task to begin in the spring.)  Anise hyssop and tulsi (Holy Basil) are also easily grown, but I'll post those instructions in the spring.)

For now, I'm focussing on mint and dianthus flowers, although these directions apply to any herbal leaf and edible flower that has a pleasant taste and a healthy effect.

Meanwhile, harvest a grocery bag’s worth of mint.  Wash it in a colander, then strip the leaves by pinching off the top two leaves, then running your thumb and forefinger down the stem.  You can strip the flower stalks this way, or leave the flower stalks whole, which looks pretty in the tea.

Put the most delicate items on the top rack.

Layer the leaves on dehydrator racks.  Bottom racks will dehydrate more quickly, so place leaves more thickly on lower racks to even out drying time.  Put most delicate items on the top rack.  I had a few dianthus flowers, but hope to find more for a second batch.  Dianthus are aromatic and edible, so I included them with this tea.  Make sure that any flowers you do use are edible!

My dehydrator is so old it doesn’t even have a brand name on it.  It just plugs in, but I do make sure the air holes in the lid are open as far as they can go.  After an hour you’ll see moisture condensing inside, and the aroma is a bit grassy, but as the leaves dry, they will smell more like mint.  Check on the leaves from time to time and rotate racks around to make sure the leaves dry evenly.  Put the lid back each time.

You can use the mint at any point along the way for a cup of tea, but make sure you dehydrate it for at least eight hours, till it’s crackly dry before you store it.  I turn the dehydrator off and leave overnight, so every last bit of moisture is gone.  Then I fill a mason jar the next morning, and use a tight fitting lid. 

To make a cup of tea, place about a teaspoon of loose leaves into a cup.  Pour hot water over to steep.  Five minutes later you may want to strain the tea, or drink it with the leaves, it’s up to you.

Many herbal leafy plants cannot root from cuttings, but mint will cheerfully oblige you.  As for growing the mint, about a month before the last frost in your area, buy a bunch of healthy mint at the grocery store for about two dollars.  Depending on the size of the bunch, set the stems in one or two glasses filled with water.  Set each glass into a clear plastic bag, pulling the top of the bag up and over the mint.  Tie the bag loosely to make a mini-greenhouse.  If you skip this step, the mint will wilt and die.  
Pack into a big mason jar when it's brittle dry.

Place the mini greenhouses in a bright window (not a full sun window) and watch for a couple of weeks.  Add water when it runs low, and remove any rotting leaves or stems.  Add a few grains of fertilizer if you have it.  When fine white hairy roots are about two inches long, remove from the glasses and pot up, one per two inch pot.  Use a good quality potting soil and make sure that the soil is low enough in the pot that water will sink into the soil and not run out over the top.  Water well.

Put each pot into a clear plastic bag and tie loosely again to make more little greenhouses.  The bags will provide enough humidity.  Our climate is so dry the plants can’t survive without this step.  Keep in a bright window till you have frost free days.  Sun is fine at this point.

The two dollars you spend on a bunch of fresh mint will yield about ten to fifteen plants.  Or you could go to the garden centre and spend around three dollars on one plant.  Just be sure that the bunch of mint you buy is vibrant and firm.  Avoid buying weak or wilting bunches, as they will not produce good results.

You can plant up to five of these plants in a large pot, say 16 inches in diameter.  Or you can put it directly into the ground, spaced about a foot apart,  if you’re not worried about it taking over the garden.  Mint doesn’t need a lot of sun.  I keep it growing in a large ceramic pot by my shady pond, then I also have it growing in a shady garden, and then another huge pot in a sunny spot by the vegetable garden.  The shadier spots have nicer plants, with bigger leaves. This is a long term project, but well worth the results.

Of course you can't see it growing, because I harvested it already.  There's the large, upright ceramic pot full of stems putting out new leaves already.  Harvesting several times a season makes good sense too!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Lemon, Rose and Kefir Crème Jelly

Lemon, Rose and Kefir Creme Jelly

I had a lot of lemons in my kitchen, and needed to use some of the extras, after making yet another batch of lemon and mint herbal tea.  I have a secret love of lemon jelly, homemade, of course.  There is no comparison to that strange box of chemicals, which contains no real food, or flavours, except for the massive quantities of sugar and gelatin, of course.

Gelatin is actually a healthy food in itself, very good for softening wrinkles, and making nails and hair stronger.  But it can taste fabulous, and be all round healthy, not to mention pro-biotic, if you make your jelly with real food!

This dessert for four takes about ten minutes to prepare if you already have the Kefir Cream, but at least 8 hours if you don’t.  Once you keep Kefir cream on hand, you will have it forever, it is that good. 

Once I needed a great deal of Crème Fraiche, otherwise known as English Cream.  I needed enough for 160 servings.  Buying it would have been prohibitive, so I dreamed up this idea. My stuff is thick and sweet.  Once it’s made and well chilled, you can also sweeten it a bit and then whip it just like cream.  But for this recipe, we’ll just use it out of the jar. 
I wound up eating half the entire jelly, I confess.

Here we go to make the Kefir Creme.   So easy.  Pour 35% heavy cream into a clean jar.  The first time I did it, I used an entire quart, and added about a cup of Kefir.  That was for the 160 servings.  

For my own benefit, I poured less than a cup of cream into a jar, and added a couple of tablespoons of dairy Kefir already on hand. 
 
The jar needs to be lightly covered (cloth and an elastic band) and left on the counter till it’s thick, 
which is approximately eight hours.  Remove the cloth and put the regular lid back on and refrigerate.  Once you have it, use an amount, then top up the jar with more fresh heavy cream.  Stir well, and let sit on counter for 6 or so hours, lightly covered, then properly cover and refrigerate. Perpetually!
Available in South Asian groceries.

Now for the jelly:

1 packet gelatin (1 tablespoon)
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ or 2 whole lemons
1 heaping tablespoon honey
More boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla (or more)
½ teaspoon dried rose petals
2 tablespoons Kefir Crème 

Gelatin comes in boxes containing a number of packets, each packet containing a tablespoon of gelatin granules, in North America.  I know you can get it in sheets as well, which I own, but the directions are in German.  I understand that the sheet gelatin makes a more transparent jelly, so one day I will get my German directions properly translated.  Till then, my jelly will be a little cloudy.

A packet requires 2 cups of liquid.  Hence the vagueness of some of my amounts, above.  First, pour ½ cup of boiling water into a shallow bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin granules onto the water.  Set aside for about ten minutes.
This nifty tool makes perfect zest.

A lemon zester is a wonderful object, but if you don’t have one, scrape just the outer layer of yellow peel, then slice those scrapes into very thin strips.  I adore lemon zest, so I used the zest from one and a half lemons.  You may use less.  Sprinkle the zest into the gelatin water.  By the time my zesting was done, ten minutes had passed, so I stirred to incorporate the gelatin and zest into the water.  If you get the feeling the granules still aren’t completely dissolved, have patience.  The next steps will do the trick.

Juice at least one and a half lemons.  Measure the juice and add more boiling water till you have a full cup of water.  I needed to nuke my honey for about five seconds, but if yours is runny, add it to the lemon water.  Taste.  At this point, your gelatin still needs another ½ cup of water.  If you think it needs more lemon juice, measure that out, and more water if it’s too sour.  Don’t fill to the top though, because you still need to add vanilla to that cup.  
Taste and measure carefully!

Making jelly is a mathematical endeavor.  One packet needs two cups of liquid.  Proportions will vary, according to your taste, but I used just one and a half lemon’s worth of juice, and the rest was boiling water and vanilla. 

Sprinkle the rose petals on top, then add the crème in small dollops.  Chill for at least two hours.


Technically this dessert serves four, unless you decide to have it for your lunch, in which case you’ll want to eat half of it right away, saving the other half for later.  This isn’t a sinful lunch, honest. Very little sweetener, fresh lemons, fresh peel, a little Kefir, very probiotic and healthy, actually! 

This kefir cream hasn't been whipped.  But it could be to increase the volume!


The herbal tea will be sufficiently dried by tonight.  Lemon, mint, and rose petals, of course.
Lemon, mint and rose petal tea -- so fragrant!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Salmon Saganaki

Salmon Saganaki (Greek Style with Tomatoes and Feta Cheese)

You know that really fantastic Greek shrimp recipe that involves tomato and feta cheese?  Well this is it, but with wild salmon, instead.  This dish has all the flavours, but without the guilt of the shrimp, which has begun to concern me of late.

This deliciousness takes about 45 minutes, from beginning to eating, and it serves 4.  If you’re making this with my already pictured Potato and Cauliflower with Greek Flavours, start that one first, because it takes longer to cook.
Fresh from my garden!

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seed
20 grates black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 cups cubed tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
2 diced chillies (optional)
4 salmon fillets
¼ cup feta cheese, broken into pieces 

Pour the oil into a large but shallow pan, and put on medium heat.  When the oil is heated, add the oregano, cumin and black pepper.  Let spices sizzle and become fragrant.  Add the cinnamon, immediately followed by the onion.  Cook till the onion starts to get translucent and golden at the edges.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.  You don’t want garlic to darken, as it gets bitter.  

Fry the spices till fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and chillies and put a cover on it.  Turn heat down to medium low and cook for about five minutes.  If needed, mash the tomatoes a little to break them up a bit more.  You don’t want a smooth sauce, so just squash a few tomatoes a little.  Continue to cook for about twenty minutes.  

Add the salmon fillets.  Splash a little of the sauce on top to cook from the top as well.  (I went with frozen fillets, which I later regretted.  If you must use frozen, thaw it in its package in cold water, ahead of time.)  After cooking fresh or thawed salmon for a few minutes, turn over to the other side and splash a little more sauce on top. 
Smash just some of the tomato.

Once the salmon is approaching being cooked, in about seven minutes, which is when it becomes opaque and flaky, toss in the feta cheese.  Stir into the sauce.

Give the cheese time to melt.  Check on the salmon to make sure it’s opaque and flaky.  Don’t over cook the salmon!  Serve it at once, preferably with nice lemony Greek potatoes, or even better, with my Not Aloo Gobi, my Greek version of that delicious Indian cauliflower and potato dish.

If you are still cheerfully eating shrimp, of course you can omit the salmon, and use shrimp instead, and those little creatures will take even less time to cook.  You know they are done when they are pink and fully opaque.  No overcooking, or else! 

Stir the feta into the sauce and serve right away!


The flavours of Greece are most enchanting.  Cumin, oregano, garlic and lemons, not to mention lashings of olive oil, what’s not to like?

The Greek style cauliflower and potatoes go so well with this Saganaki salmon.

Greek Style Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi with Greek Spices (I know, I know it's NOT aloo gobi)

Yes, I know.  It’s crazy to switch out the classic Indian cauliflower and potato dish by removing the Indian spices and using Greek instead, but go ahead, grab a torch and chase me over the nearest cliff.

This works and it’s delicious. It all came into my noggin because I had a great deal of cauliflower and some home grown new potatoes, but I had a hankering for that really good Greek Saganaki shrimp recipe.  In the end I crazied up the shrimp recipe too, by switching out wild salmon for shrimp, but that’s another post.

Meanwhile, this not aloo gobi takes about fifteen minutes to prepare and another hour to bake at 350 F.  It goes beautifully with Saganaki stylesalmon, by the way.

2 tablespoons Greek olive oil
2 medium size potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium size cauliflower, stems trimmed and chopped and florets broken into bite size pieces
½ red onion, diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 mild chilies, minced (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seed
20 grates black pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
½ teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
Juice of 2 fresh lemons

Pour olive oil into a shallow baking dish.  Add cut potato first, so it soaks up some oil right away. 
Your own warm hands make the best mixing tools.

Add the rest of the ingredients, then toss carefully to make sure everything is well covered in oil, spices and lemon juice.  I like to use my hands because then I know my mix is perfect.  Bake for one hour at 350F, stirring from time to time.


Yes, it’s that easy.  This side dish goes beautifully with my Saganaki style salmon, but would also go well with a number of Greek dishes.  I apologize to both Mother India and Greece for this one.  But go ahead and try it and let me know if you also think it’s a delicious combo! 

The NOT aloo gobi is on the bottom and to the left.  The saganaki salmon and it's juices are to the right.  Oh, delish...

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Plum Crumble (Gluten free)

Plum Crumble (Gluten Free)

There is something about our chilly fall weather that begs for warm, fruity desserts.  I had some leftover plums, and was yearning for a warm, fragrant, sweet plum crumble, full of oats, almonds and walnuts.  Look Ma!  No gluten!  I don't normally shun gluten, but I'm on an experiment right now, and am avoiding flour.  So far, no worthy results, but I'll continue for a while.

This luscious yet wholesome dessert takes about fifteen minutes to prepare, bakes in an hour at 350 F, should cool at least twenty minutes, and serves four. 
I could have used a few more plums, so I added a few blueberries too.

Hands work best for blending butter and oil.
20 plums
scattering of other fruit (optional)
½ cup old fashioned oat flakes
¼ cup raw organic palm sugar or jaggery powder
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup walnuts
1/8 cup coconut milk powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon cold butter
1/8 cup avocado oil 

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Before the blueberries filled the spaces.
Pit and cut the plums into bite size pieces.  Pour into a baking dish.  (I used a pie plate, but would have preferred a smaller, deeper dish.) My pie plate needed a squidge more fruit, so I sprinkled a few blueberries into the fruit, but any other temperate climate fruit or berry will do, if you need to fill up your plate. Fetch a spoonful of raw sugar from the quarter cup, and sprinkle it over the plums.  Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, toss in the oat flakes and rest of the sugar.   Buzz the almonds in a blender until they are almost all powdered up.  Leave some almond bits.  Add to the oats.  Buzz the walnuts for less time than the almonds.  Some powder is fine, but mostly you want small bits.  Add to the oat mix.  Add the coconut, cinnamon and salt to the oat mix.


Add the butter and oil and mix with your hands until the butter and oil are well distributed and the mix gets clumpy when squeezed.  Sprinkle over the fruit. 

Blend till mix clumps a bit when squeezed.

I might confess here that I actually made twice the amount of topping necessary, and I tucked the extra half in the freezer for in case I want to make an apple crumble or yet another plum crumble, sometime soon, when I'm all by myself, and no one can stop me from eating the whole thing...  Anyway, I've halved the topping ingredients here, to how much I really made today.


Bake for an hour.  The house will smell fabulous.  Serve with vanilla ice cream if you’re eating this for dessert, or warm it up and then pour some milk over it if you are grabbing it for breakfast.  Oh, what a happy start to your day!
Really, no one has any business eating this much, anyway.  This is a full pie plate's worth!