Catrina's Garden

A place for gardeners, foodies and garden inspired artists.

Month: February 2016

All about Basil

Basil…either you love it or you hate it. Maybe if you hate it it’s because you haven’t really had “good” basil. Dried Herbs old1 Is this what the basil you are used to looks like? There is nothing wrong with dried basil, but if you use it this is what it should look like. Dried Herbs Fresh1Dried herbs don’t have a really long shelf life. Depending on where you store them the will only last about a year. When they have lost their bright green color and no longer have a nice aroma you may as well toss them. Old herbs won’t hurt you but as my dad says “they taste like grass”.


So where should they be stored? Well, dark and cool is best but you really don’t need to keep them in the refrigerator; just not right over the stove. Keep them in a container that is tightly sealed.

Freshly dried herbs are great but if you have never had fresh herbs you are really missing out. Here in Wisconsin, Basil is an annual herb. Basil and other annual herbs should be treated like fresh flowers. Many annual herbs can be stored for a short time in the frig.Fresh Basil1 If you put a piece of paper towel in the bag with them it will absorb moisture and keep them fresh longer. some people keep basil in the frig, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Basil will turn black if it gets too cold or will get dark spots. It’s still okay to eat if it’s not mushy; just not pretty.  Instead harvest it fresh (ideal) for each use or if you purchased it cut then put it in a cup or vase, just like it is a cut flower. It really can be quite beautiful. If you see it all the time, you will be more likely to use it too.

So, you could grow your own; we’ll talk about that next time.  However, you can buy it too. “It’s so expensive” you say. Well, yes, often times in the grocery store it is. Look for it at farmer’s markets and/or your local Asian market. If you find it for a good price get a lot and preserve it.

Thai basil flower1By the way, you can eat the flowers too. Try them, they are good; and also pretty on a salad.

Next click here to learn how to Grow Great Basil.

For the History of Basil click here.


Root Cellar Carrots – Maple Glaze Recipe

Purple Haze carrots and sugar snack carrots I got a little carried away with the carrots this year. We had quite a few different colors. The gold and white varieties are pretty but I really like the dark red and purple ones. The have way more beta carotene than a standard carrot, and are simply beautiful on the plate. Having unusual colored veges is always a great way to get people talking at the pot luck too. These are Purple Haze and Sugar Snack Carrots at the peak of the season.

Holly with carrots1Carrots are such a fun crop for kids to grow too. They just love all the different colors and are more likely to actually eat them if they saw them being produced.

This time of year all of the best and most beautiful veges are long gone. The sweet crisp, thin skinned carrots don’t store very well, but I still had a bucket of Danvers and Bolero carrots which I grow for eating later in the winter. I do have a root cellar, so that helps. It’s best to store them at a temp from the high 30’s to the low 40’s. The trick is to keep them moist enough so that they don’t shrivel up but not so moist that they rot. I use a mix of half sand half garden soil. Whatever you do don’t wash them before you store them, you can remove the leaves, but don’t cut off the tops and when you bury them in the sand, try to arrange them so they don’t touch. These storage varieties have more fiber and starch but bolero has a thinner core than Danvers, and both of them are great cooked; much better than anything you would get in the grocery store this time of year.

So I dug the last of them out and this is what I made with them. The maple syrup and orange makes up for these storage carrots being a little less sweet. We cook our own maple syrup here in Wisconsin; not for production or sale…yet. We just do small batches for ourselves and for gifts.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5You could use store bought syrup but nothing beats pure 100% maple syrup. Check back for more on “sugarin” in spring.

So here’s the recipe:

Maple Glazed Carrots

½ cup pure maple syrup

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cup orange juice – You can use a little lemon or lime juice in place of the orange if you like it a little more tart

2 oranges or one small can of mandarin oranges

¼ cup water

1 ½ tbsp. cornstarch

1# sliced or diced carrots

1-2 tbsp. butter (you can use olive oil if you are worried about it)

½ cup Parsley (you can use fresh mint too if you have some. Pineapple or other fruit flavored mints are especially good.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Maple Glazed Carrots - CopyFirst make the maple the glaze: Place maple syrup, cinnamon stick, orange juice and oranges in pan and simmer lightly. Break up the oranges with the spatula. In a cup, stir together water and cornstarch until smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry slowly into the maple mixture, and continue to simmer and stir over low heat until it is thickened. This may take a while; be patient and don’t turn up the heat too high. Remove the cinnamon stick and any skins and pith from the oranges.

Sauté the carrots in the butter or oil until they are starting to get soft; how soft is really up to you, I know people who insist that the carrots aren’t done unless they are really soft, I tend to like them a little firmer.

Add the maple glaze, salt, pepper and herbs. If you use fresh oranges you can zest them before you peel them and then add the zest at the end for extra bright citrus flavor. This makes 4 to 6 servings.

Enjoy a taste of summer from your root cellar.

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