Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What To Do With Herbs in Your Garden

It's springtime but not until yesterday did I see the sun come out after many days of rainfall.  Non-stop raining, days and night, generously watered my plants, my roses, and my herbs, until my backyard almost got flooded. What a way  of nature providing me water to  keep my plants hydrated without any cost and helping me save on my water bill.  

Together with Marley, my chihuahua buddy, it was a delight to discover that some of my plants became so lush and some were inundated with water and were almost dying.  The several pieces of ginger which I kept on top of the soil under my rosemary bush came back to life.  They were starting to get wrinkly in my kitchen when I decided to keep them in the garden. This is one tip I learned from my mother which keeps ginger fresh and ready for use anytime. 

The spearmint has taken over everything. If I don't contain it, all the other herbs will die or just be covered underneath it.  They really spread so fast. I have to trim them by cutting about 6 inches from top, then bundling  5 or 6 sprigs together with a kitchen string and hanging them upside down to dry.  They are good to make tea either fresh or dried.  I just love pouring hot boiling water into some fresh spearmint leaves in a cup, covering them with a small plate and letting them sit for a few minutes. You can also add lemon or brown sugar if you desire.  I also use them more often as a garnish to any dish that I cook.  They add more color and presents the food in a more visually palatable way. You can also use the mint as an additional flavoring in making sauces, salad dressings, and other great ideas and experiments you would like to try.  I remember, I also used it as one of the herbs in making the french sauce for my son's project in his French class in high school, the French Roast Prime Rib with French Green Sauce project. 

How else can you use the prolific mint in your garden?  Some people use it to freshen their breath.  Just snip some leaves, pop them into your mouth and chew.  Don't forget to rinse with water afterwards for you don't want the green chlorophyll to stain your teeth and remain in your mouth. 

Mint is also good to eat with a Vietnamese soup called Pho with some sprouts, basil, and lime.  I have the recipe in my blog if you want to make this delectable soup.  The key to making a good Pho is by simmering the beef for a long time until the meat practically falls of its' bones.

The chives became lush and it's now good to use as a sprinkle on top of my omelets or just for garnishing.  I love how just two pieces of chive artistically placed on top of a dish, one on  top of each other, can visually enhance the appearance of the dish.  It is remarkable that so simple an herb as  chive can make dishes created by famous chefs visually appealing.

My oregano grew and it has to be replanted so it can allow for the small sprouts to grow bigger and have more room to grow.  I use both the dry and fresh oregano in my cooking.  A little will go a long way.  I use it in making a Philippine delicacy called "Dinuguan" meaning made of blood.  Pig's blood is commonly used.  I also use it to make some Italian dishes.

Same with the mint, you can use your oregano fresh or dried.  It is a perennial plant you can keep for a long time.  You can dry them by cutting the sprigs, bundling them together, and drying them upside down by hanging in a cool dry place for about three weeks.  When they dry,  you can keep them in jars with a tight lid and store them for future use.  Just don't forget to label each jar and put the date on them.  This way you can distinguish one from another.  Thyme and oregano might look similar when dried and if they're not labeled, you might use the wrong herb and ruin your dish.

My green onion grew so tall and the leaves were bent, most likely from the wind or because it cannot support itself from it's height and weight.  This is one herb I use a lot.  I put green onion in almost everything; omelets, soups, and as garnish to all my noodle dishes. You can also dry it like the way you dry the other herbs as I have mentioned earlier.  The only thing different is, I would cut them with a kitchen scissors 1/4", the size I prefer to dry and store them. You can either air dry them by putting in a bowl and covering them  with a screen food cover or by putting a cheese cloth on top of the bowl and securing it with a string so no bugs will get into them.  After two or three weeks, keep in a jar and cover with a cap. 

You can also dry them by putting them in the oven on a baking tray. Keep the temperature to 'warm' for  6 to 10 hours or more. I also accidentally discovered drying herbs by refrigerating the chopped herb (Italian parsley) for a few days.  This happened when at one time, after dinner, we had so much chopped Italian parsley which we used to sprinkle over our pasta.  I saved and kept them in the ref and days after, I discovered they dried up.  Just cover them or better still keep them  in a jar with the lid on.  You don't want the smell of the other foods in your ref to get absorbed by your herbs.  I was fascinated to find out a few days later that they practically dried so well.   

There are other ways on what to do and how to keep your herbs  in your garden. I'm sure if you research online you can find other ways. These are how I do mine and I have proven them to work for me.  I'm sure it will for you too. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

How To Make Strawberry Jam


Making your own strawberry jam is fun and cost effective.  If your family loves jam and if you like to make sure that what goes in that bottle are pure fresh strawberries, natural, brown sugar, natural pectin from lemon juice, and no artificial or chemical ingredients, then it's about time you make your own.  The price of an 18 ounces of strawberry jam  at the supermarket has gone up. You'll be surprised to find out that if you buy your strawberries from the farmers market, two small square plastic baskets ($2.50/basket)can yield about 3 cups of strawberry jam. 


You can buy the special cooking kit to make jams and other preserves.  There are so many you can find online and Target carries one kit which you can check out.  I don't really have a special cooking kit for making my jams and some preserves.  I just saved a lot of bottles from glass containers of sauces and other food products I used in the past.  For sterilizing my bottles, I use my big old pot where I boil my lobsters and crabs.  They're made of stainless steel and they're easy to clean. 

6 cups mashed strawberries (I used my potato masher)
3 cups of brown sugar (you can add more if you want it sweeter)
1 lemon (juice)

Put the strawberries and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Mix well.  Remove the scum (foam) that forms on top of the strawberries with a big spoon.  Add the lemon juice and cook for another 5 minutes.  Let cool.

At the same time, sterilize your jars and caps by boiling in a big pot of water covering the bottles for about 10 minutes.  Remove bottles and caps and put on a clean tray to cool.

Scoop the cooked strawberry jam into the jars until about 1/2" from the bream.  Cover with the caps and boil again in the water for another 10 minutes.  Let cool.

*You can also use other fruits like raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, etc.
*Tested and Tried at Chris' kitchen on 03/28/2011 

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rosemary Onion Baked Chicken



On ordinary days we try to cook as simple and healthy as possible.  Simple meaning easy to prepare and cook and healthy means lots of veggies and less saturated fat to clog our arteries, less salt to elevate our blood pressure, and no sugar for sweeteners if not the natural ones.  Of course my children exercise regularly by not missing their gym routine but I'm afraid I'm a little bit guilty of slacking off. 

Tonight's dinner was easy.  I baked the chicken on a bed of sliced onions and I lay two sprigs of Rosemary from my garden on top of it.  On the side, I steamed some Broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots for 3 minutes. 

Ingredients
2 1/2 chicken (cut up in serving pieces)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 big cloves minced garlic
1 sliced big onion
2 tablespoon olive oil

Procedure
Set oven to 425 degrees F.  On a rectangular serving dish, lay the onions.  Add the chicken pieces on top and arrange them so they do not crowd each other.  Rub the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and garlic.  Drizzle the olive oil on top. Put 2 sprigs of rosemary and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Lower the heat to 400 degrees F and bake for another 25 minutes until golden brown.  Serve immediately.

*Serve with rice, potatoes, or bread
*Tested and tried at Chris' kitchen on 04/26/2011

Chicken Sweet Peas



Ingredients
2 1/2 lbs chicken (cut into small serving pieces)
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2 sliced big onion
2 big medium-sized chopped Roma tomatoes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fish sauce (1 tablespoon salt will do)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 15 oz can sweet peas


Procedure
Brown the chicken in a pan with canola oil on high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and set aside.  Heat the pan again and add 1 tablespoon canola oil (if needed)and brown the garlic for about 3 minutes.  Add the sliced onions.  Cook until onions become transparent then add the tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes wilt and becomes saucy.  Add the chicken pieces, fish sauce, and freshly ground pepper and mix well.  Cover pan,  and cook for 15 minutes. Add the sweet peas (drain the water) and cook for another 15 minutes. Mix well and simmer for another 5 minutes. 

*Serve with rice or bread
*Tested and tried at Chris' kitchen

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chicken Macaroni Soup



I must have cooked chicken soup more than 5 or 6 times this month.  It's just the right comfort food in this cold rainy weather, aside from the fact that I didn't want those leftover roast chicken I have been keeping in the freezer go to waste.  I try to use them at least within a month and if not, I just discard them. 

I make my chicken soup by boiling the leftover roasted chicken (you can also use fresh chicken) which I kept in the freezer.  With that I add chopped onions, chopped celery, and chopped carrots, salt, and freshly ground pepper for about 30 minutes.  I then strain the liquid through a colander separating the chicken with the other veggies in order to get a clean soup base.  I then get the chicken meat attached to the bones and shred them with my fingers and set them aside to put in the soup in the end.  Here's another comfort food that will satisfy your craving on a cold rainy weather.

Ingredients
1/2 chicken or leftover chicken
1 big chunks of yellow onion
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (for boiling with the chicken leftover)
3 or 4 medium-sized carrots (sliced 1/4 inch)
8 ounces or 1/2 lb elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parley (for garnishing)

Procedure
Bring to a boil the chicken (or leftover chicken with about 8 cups of water with the chopped onion, celery, carrots, salt, and freshly ground pepper and cook in medium heat for about 30 minutes.  Strain the liquid through a colander to another pot to boil again.  Set the chicken pieces aside to cool. Shred the chicken meat with your fingers and set aside to put as the last ingredient on your chicken soup.  Add the carrots, elbow macaroni, and chopped Italian parsley to the boiling soup base and continue cooking until macaroni expands for about 10 minutes.  Mix well and adjust taste if necessary.  Add the shredded chicken. Scoop some to a soup bowl and garnish with the chopped Italian parsley. Serve with crackers.  Serve immediately. 

*Makes 8 to 10 servings
*Tested and tried at Chris' kitchen  03/25/2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spaghetti Bolognese with Meatballs




Who wants this comfort food on a stormy weather when all you hear all day long is the rhythm of the rain falling on your rooftop?  I do,  and I'm sure most of you do too, specially my children.  Here's a simple dish that can satisfy your craving on an early spring stormy day..

Ingredients
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2  teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise or 1 egg
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups cooking oil, for frying
24 ounces bottle marinara sauce
1 big clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons oil (from the oil used to fry meatballs)
1 package oyster mushroom, break into two with your hands
1 package regular spaghetti (16 ounces)

Procedure
To make the meatballs, add the finely chopped onion, salt, freshly ground pepper, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and the Italian parsley.  Mix well with your clean hands until mixture becomes sticky and can form a ball. Make into small meatballs (about 1 tablespoon) and set aside.  Heat a frying pan and add oil.  Oil must be very hot (375 degrees F) when you drop (slowly and gently)  the meatballs. Do not crowd meatballs.  Fry just enough to brown them all around until they caramelized.  Set aside and turn off heat. Transfer remaining oil in a container and set aside to use later to saute the mushrooms and make the sauce.

 At the same time, boil water in a pot to cook the spaghetti.  When water is boiling, drop the spaghetti noodles and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Heat  a deep pan and  add some oil from the oil you set aside earlier when you fried the meatballs.  Brown the minced garlic.  Add the mushrooms and saute until cooked for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the marinara sauce and mix well.  Add the meatballs and simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the cooked spaghetti with the sauce and mix well. Scooped cooked spaghetti on a bowl or plate. Garnish with ground Parmegianno Reggiano cheese and chopped Italian parsley. Serve immediately.

*Serves 4 to 6
*Tested and tried in Chris' kitchen 03/24/2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Corned Beef and Cabbage


Cooking this simple Irish dish can be a challenge.  Not only is it super salty but it's also pretty tough and takes too long to cook to make it tender.  I don't normally  cook this Irish dish  because it is laden with artificial preservatives like sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite (carcinogens) and tons of salt. But because it's St. Patrick's day, and only once a year (what a lame excuse), it doesn't hurt to be in the spirit.

My morning was quite hectic and I was most of the time on the phone talking to clients .and I wasn't able to write down my strategies in cooking this simple but quite challenging dish.  My plan was to 1) wash the corned beef very well with running hot water (as hot as your hands can stand) and then 2) boil it for 1 hour. 3) Roast it in the oven at 250 F degrees for about 4 hours with sliced yellow onions underneath. 4) Cut into serving pieces and bring to a boil and simmer on medium-low heat for 1 hour.  Add the cabbage.  Serve with steamed rice or bread with black or green Irish beer.

My schedule was running behind and I didn't get to number 4 when my children came home from work and school, so I had to abort and change my plan of making Corned Beef and Cabbage Stew to Corned Beef and Cabbage Sandwiches.  We used whole wheat bread slathered with mustard and layered with thin slices of corned beef with a piece of cabbage on the side.  My daughter added a crunchy Vlasic whole dill pickles. 

My children invited a friend over to share our Corned Beef Sandwiches and there's still half of the corned beef left which I plan to make into a stew for tomorrow's lunch.  Not bad for a package of corned beef worth $12.83 that served 6 people plus leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chicken Curry


Anybody can cook Chicken Curry.  It's a simple dish.  I cook my Chicken Curry in different ways depending on what ingredients are available in my kitchen; with coconut milk, with cow's milk, with potatoes, dry chicken curry, saucy chicken curry, etc.  You can use any part of the chicken, just cut them into serving pieces.  Today I used chicken wings and added diced apples for an extra sweet taste to balance the spicy curry.  I didn't want to use sugar for that would overwhelm the dominant flavor of the curry.  Although adding  a tablespoon of sugar to my curry did enhance the flavor of the Chicken Curries I have experimented in the past. This time, I preferred using fructose to lightly sweeten my curry.  What secret ingredient do I use to make good Chicken Curry?  It's in the curry powder. I use Madras curry powder.  You can probably find it in any Asian store. 

Ingredients
4 pounds chicken wings (I used only the upper and middle part of the chicken wings.)
10 to 12  big cloves of garlic, pounded and minced
4 tablespoons of Madras curry powder (add more according to your taste)
2 medium-sized diced apples
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
3 tablespoons fish sauce
5 to 6 tablespoons canola oil

Procedure
Brown the garlic with canola oil in a pan on medium-high heat.  Add the curry powder and stir with the garlic for for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken pieces, mix well, and  and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the and diced apples, mix well,  and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-high. Add the ground black pepper, salt, and  about 2 to 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium and cook for about another 15 minutes. Add the fish sauce.  Simmer on medium-low heat until sauce thickens.  Serve immediately.

* Serves 4 to 6
*Serve with steamed rice or bread
*Tested and tried at Chris' kitchen 03/14/2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dinardaraan (Pork Blood Stew)



Dinardaraan is a stew made of pork blood and the internal organs of the pig like the intestines and stomach. Some use the heart, ears, and cheeks, but for health reasons, I just use the lean pork.  Dinardaraan is the term used by the Ilocanos and Pangasinenses from the northern region of the Philippines. The Tagalogs call them Dinuguan,  which means made of blood. Pork blood is commonly used.


How then do the same 'made of blood' dish differ as far as cooking it? Ilocanos come from the northern region of the Philippines in Ilocos Norte or Ilocos Sur. Pangasinenses come from the northern region called Pangasinan. The Tagalogs come from the central region of the Philippines like Batangas, Bulacan, Bataan, Cavite, Rizal, etc. Through my observation, and having both friends from both regions.  The Ilocanos cook their Dinardaraan with chunks of blood using the coagulated slabs of pork blood. They do not add a lot of water and therefore their version is not soupy but dry. They also use dried Kamias, a sour fruit used to give the dish that certain sour taste, so distinct and different from the native coconut vinegar.


On the other hand, the Dinuguan by the Tagalogs is soupy.  They prefer to use liquid pork blood and internal organs of the pig. To give their dish the sour shot, they use the native vinegar made from coconut, palm, and other native Philippine vinegars.


This recipe uses the coagulated pork blood with no internal organs of the pig but just the fatless portion of the pork butt.

Ingredients

2 cups coagulated pork blood
1 cup coconut vinegar or any Philippine native vinegar
2 pounds pork butt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 sprigs dried oregano or 1 tablespoon ground oregano
2 bay leaves
1 medium-sized onion, sliced 
6 garlic cloves, minced 
6 Jalapeno peppers
4 tablespoons canola oil

Procedure

Put the coagulated blood in a stainless steel bowl and liquify by squeezing and mashing with your clean hand. Add 1/2 cup vinegar and set aside. Marinate the pork meat with the 1/2 cup vinegar, freshly ground pepper,  garlic, and salt.  Brown the garlic with the oil in a pan.  Add the onions until transparent.   Add the pork meat and cook until no longer pink or cooked.   Add the oregano and the bay leaf.  Slowly add the pork blood.  Cook for 10 more minutes.  Mix well. Add the Jalapeno pepper, put the cover on,  and simmer until the peppers wilt. 

*Serve with steamed rice or Puto (steamed rice cake)

*Tested and tried at Chris' kitchen 03/08/2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ginisang Tahong (Braised Mussels)


We all know that the key to cooking and eating good food depends upon the freshness and quality of the ingredients.  When cooking seafood like crabs, lobsters, shrimps, oysters, mussels, clams, and other edible creatures from the sea, the best  is to get them alive.  It may cost you a little more and go off  your budget, but rest assured that everyone who partakes of your feast will be delighted and satisfied. 

Ingredients

3 pounds bag of Mediterranean oysters
1 sliced medium-sized yellow onion
4 cloves minced garlic
2 fingers sliced ginger
3 stalks green onion (cleaned and cut into 3)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon oyster sauce

Procedure:

Heat your wok to high and brown your garlic, onions, ginger, and green onion until onion becomes transparent.  Push them all on one side and add the mussels. Add the oyster sauce and keep mixing them around without overlapping the mussels, then mix them with the garlic, onions, ginger, and green onion.  You will notice their natural juice will come out when the mussels and the other ingredients sweat. By this time, all mussels should have opened. Cover the wok and turn the heat off.  Serve immediately.

*Serve hot.
*Tried and tested at Chris' kitchen 03/01/2011

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