Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day - "Emergency Steak" and Memories

Dear Folks,

In honor of our Veterans and current troops, I wanted to share a recipe from 1945, and a link for more memories -- old time radio programs focused on the Memorial Day holiday.

First the link for the radio programs.  Jon Hall over has compiled an incredible library of old time radio programs.  Everything from comedy to drama and "shudder" horror. Many, many of the programs in the library celebrate holidays through out the year.  Here is the link for the page showcasing Memorial Day.  Jon, always provides a free program for each theme to listen to or download.  And his compilations are very inexpensive, literally pennies per hour of enjoyment, and perfect for your iPod, mp3 player, computer or tablet.  Memorial Day on


In the sidebar here on the blog I list some of my favorite charities.  I always check out a charity with Charity Navigator for the best organizations -- those that put the most money into the program and not administrative  or fund raising expenses.  What that means is sometimes the really good programs do not get as much attention as they should.  One of them is Packages from Home.  Consider a donation, to honor your veteran, or someone else's or just to help out. Packages From Home

Remember every little bit helps, don't not donate because all you can muster is $10 -- every little bit helps!


Back in November I blogged about "Emergency Steak" a war-time recipe using ground beef to make a 'steak' and that I was going to try it soon.  Well with one thing and another it was a recipe I just never got around to until this week.  Just in time for Memorial Day!

Read that blog post for the original recipe -- It was all about cooking shows are not new.  Old time radio programs included cooking shows.  As mentioned in the blog and before - the Victory Gardens of WWII were the source of about 40% of produce consumed in the US during the war.  And the frugal necessity of limited supplies stateside meant cooks had to be creative.

We should keep all of that home growing and cooking creativity always in focus.  Many people are still struggling.  Growing some of your own and being creative in the kitchen can be a money saver.  I personally believe the emotional and mental support gardening and cooking give a family is worth a lot more than the money it saves!  Also note in that blog post that the recipe serves 6 - they filled their plates with vegetables for a healthy AND frugal meal.

Here is the link for the post 

I adapted my recipe for Emergency Steak to create a more steak-like result.  I used locally produced grass-fed ground beef --  Red Mountain Cattle Company in Mesa They sell as several farmers markets around the valley.  Support your local producers!

Emergency Steak

Using ground beef is not a new 'steak' - chopped steak is an old time favorite of many people.  The trick is to limit how much you 'work' the meat so you do not wind up with meatloaf.  The other benefit is it takes about 2 minutes to prepare and only about 15-20 minutes to broil it - how's that for easy!

1 pound of ground beef
Herb blend of choice - I used a mixture of rosemary, garlic and black pepper - in this case dried
2 tablespoons of red wine
4 or 5 very thin slivers of butter

Preheat your broiler.  I used my toaster oven (hot day) in which I have baked bread, pies and cooked whole chickens.

I placed a piece of aluminum foil on the pan, sprayed with a bit of olive oil spray and patted the meat into a one inch thick long 'steak shape' -- I purchased a roll of meat so it was easy to simply pat it down into the size I wanted.  I also pressed my thumb down on top in several places to create the depressions needed to keep the meat from swelling up and cooking unevenly (technique usually used with burgers).  Sprinkled with a generous amount of the dried herbs.  Dribbled the wine over it and popped it under the broiler set at 500 for 15 minutes.  As soon as I pulled it out I laid the butter slivers on top.

This produced a great caramelized top and a rare interior - you may prefer cooking longer to 20 or 25 minutes at 425, to cook well done.

Deane and I agreed that it turned out great (and he is the real meat and potatoes person who wants substance in his food).  Not a meatloaf at all but somewhere between steak and a burger in texture and what the food people call 'mouth satiety', and the flavor was awesome.

Grass fed beef needs to be handled a little differently than grain fed, and it is worth learning that since the grass-fed are healthier animals and better for you and your family.

And finally today, check out my newsletter site for my answers to a reader's question on using chives.  Tips you can put to use this weekend too!

Chives - What are they good for?

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and be safe, hug your veteran, salute our troops and get out into the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preserving The Bounty - Sun Drying

Dear Folks,

In the past we have canned our fruit. See also a note near the bottom on "pie kits."

And when I dry my herbs, I use the refrigerator (the modern refrigerators mimic the commercial freeze-dry process by constantly removing moisture from the air, thus drying the herbs in a process which keeps both more color and essential oils).

Our fruit production was way down this year due to the demise of trees and a more aggressive pruning of the remaining fruit trees.  So I decided to sundry some of the fruit and while I was at it - I dried some herbs in the sun also.

See my post from 2009 on sun drying tomatoes and letting the plants sprawl for maximum production in the desert garden.

We should take advantage of the free energy our Desert sun affords us (one of these days I'm going to get around to making a solar cooker).

Keep some things in mind when sun drying foods:

Any weather other than hot and sunny

With fruits like apricots you need to dunk them in acidulated water (light lemon water) to keep them from browning too much.  Commercial dried fruit is usually sulfured and the lemon water works in the same way to keep them from browning too much.

You can see the fresh fruit just put in the trays, and the finished fruit along side of some dried conehead thyme and Syrian Oregano.  You will note that the fruit shrinks about half, and that I left the herbs whole (keeps more essential oils intact until ready to use).

The Process.  After rinsing off, and removing any damaged parts of the fruit, I cut the apricots in half, pitted them and dunked them in the lemon water (1 squeezed lemon to 1 quart of water).  You don't have to leave the fruit in very long.  I let them air dry cut side down so there was no moisture on the bottoms (skin side) of the fruit, then nested them into trays, cut side up.  It took 3 whole sun days to dry them to almost leather consistency - there was still a bit of give in the center of them.  I am storing them in the refrigerator as a precaution, but I'm very pleased with the way they turned out.

You will note that I used a pryex (Glass) tray and a metal tray lined with plastic wrap.  I would recommend that you try to use only glass.  I did not want the fruit coming in contact with the metal but the plastic draped over the edges of some of the outer fruit and spoiled them, before I noticed what was happening.

I used picnic bug tents to keep the bugs off the fruit while drying.  Since we did not have any humid or rainy days while this drying was going on, I left the trays out over night.  If you have overcast, rainy, or humid days, you should plan on bringing the trays in overnight and put them out again in the sun.  The process will take anywhere from 2-5 days depending on temperatures and humidity in the air.

Herbs will dry in 1-2 days depending on temperatures.  You will note I used paper towels to keep the bugs and debris off them while drying.  I simply rinsed them well and set them out between a layer of paper towels.

Once you get into sun drying your bounty, you may want to devise a hanging screen compartmentalized set up.  If you have ever seen shoe and sweater hanger storage arrangements for closets that is what some folks like to use.  Use weed cloth or screen material to build them.  Be aware that if fruits leak while drying cleaning the screening material may take a bit of elbow grease.  That is why I chose glass baking dishes.  Perforated grilling or broiling pans will work also, if you don't mind the metal to fruit contact.

The first batch of apricots I put out to dry several weeks ago made me think of the old adage "if you want to be a better house keeper get a cat" - if you forget anything about securing the food, the critters will find them!

I placed the dishes on the table and forgot to move the bench away from it and the squirrel promptly helped herself to the drying fruit!

Hope this gives you some idea of taking advantage of the sun for drying the bounty of your garden.

This morning I put out some of our summer apple slices. Since these are the crisp green kind and Deane likes his apples sweet I sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar after dunking them in the acidulated water.  Should taste wonderful!

One other 'preserving' technique I started using last year was making 'pie kits' mixing the cut up fruit with the suggested (from your favorite recipe) proportions of sugar, spices and a some flour, toss gently put in a zip lock bag, label and freeze.  If you have more freezer space than we do (why I use the ziplock, even though I prefer glass), use quart size canning jars to freeze.

When I made the pie kits and used them the first time, I discovered the thawed fruit produced too much juice to make a decent pie -- it tasted great just wound up looking like pie-soup!  So the next time I thawed the pie kit I drained the juice and boiled it down about a third and glazed the fruit with it before popping it into the oven - worked great.

Make the most of your bounty, share, use, and preserve!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My books including recipes using fresh and dried ingredients for real flavor and gardening help for the new-to-the desert gardener.  Check out the publisher site

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Spring!

Dear Folks,

I harvested my garlic yesterday (May 23, 2011).

The typical planting season for growing head garlic is October 1 - October 31.  This past planting season, I was so far behind and did not get a new order of fresh garlic to plant, I used my last season garlic - stored as I typically do in the crisper of the refrigerator.  Because I really did not think I would have enough for a full crop (the prior year I harvested over 90 heads, but sold or used most of them) I planted 12 cloves near the end of the planting time, and reserved the rest of what I had left, still storing in the crisper, for successive planting of 'green garlic'.  (The green garlic is harvested when the cloves swell slightly and are more like a scallion and do not form a head.)

To grow head garlic you need the full winter cool cycle - about 6 months.

So to grow my green garlic I planted successive sets about every 2-4 weeks apart beginning in early December.

Theoretically all the ones planted for green garlic should not produce flowers or go to 'head' stage because they are not in the ground long enough, or get cold enough.

Well..... remember our freezes this year?

We got cold enough over a long enough period of time (Deep freezing in early February and near freezing temperatures off and on through early April) that all the unharvested green garlic began to show flower buds (called scapes) the beginning of May!  When growing the head garlic you cut the scape off then pull the plants several weeks later.  I cut the intended head crop scapes on schedule and looked back down the green garlic plants and low and behold - scapes!

So I harvested everything yesterday, I have a whole bunch more head garlic to hang and dry then I originally planned. Not a problem certainly but one of Mother Nature's whimsical jokes.

When you look at the picture here of what I harvested yesterday, you will see a great size difference in the heads.  The ones on the right are the intended 'head' crop.  The ones on the left are the intended "green garlic" crop and the one in the middle was a hold over from last year and set connected, good sized heads in one clump.  Sometimes I will miss a plant when harvesting and it will stay un-noticed until the next spring because the top growth dies back completely in the heat of the summer.

I love to garden, don't you!

Don't let anyone tell you what you can not grow here in the desert.

Have a great day in the garden.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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