Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Garden Dry Your Own Chile Pepper Flakes

The Chile Peppers are first to come in this season and we've grown a wide variety. 

Just yesterday I harvested a whole lot of the Birdseye (Thai) Chile Peppers. My favorite for drying because they're little and fast to dry.

I have been known to dry my peppers naturally, (air dry) when our weather is not to humid. That rarely happens here in the Gulf Coast area. 

You can visit me at Natural Family Today for a great photo to see how I stung together peppers to dry naturally last season. I also included some other tips for canning and preserving naturally.

I am doing oven drying today. You can use a food dehydrator for this method as well. 

After spreading the prettiest peppers out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper they were ready to go in. I like using the paper because it seems to help absorb any moisture and the peppers dry faster.

The Chilies take approximately 8 to 10 hours to dry. Other peppers can take up to 12 hours because they have a thicker skin than the chilies. 

To make this real easy, I turn the oven on the lowest setting at around 170 degrees. I like putting the peppers in right before I go to sleep for the night. 

When I wake, the smallest ones are already finished drying. I go ahead and pick them out and place the rest back in the oven.

When the Chilies have completely dried, it's just a matter of crushing them. They are a little crispy, so it is not to big of a challenge. Just be very sure to wear gloves or to not touch your face. They are HOT!

I crushed my Chilies by using a coffee grinder. Don't over grind or you will end up with a lot of powder. Although Chile Powder is great too! A simple mortar and pestle works well, it is just a little more time consuming. 

Find a pretty jar that has a good seal to help keep everything dry. I found one I liked that once was filled with orange blossom honey. 

My next project will be making up some Sweet Thai Chile Sauce. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lemon Basil Strawberry Muffins

Lemon and Strawberries are the essence of summer. This recipe is not only very refreshing, but also very easy to make and with the right ingredients can be quite healthy. Lemon Basil is a fun treat to add to many dishes. It has a smell of fresh lemon drop candy that I so much enjoy while walking through the garden. As with several herbs, Lemon Basil takes part as one of my favorite aroma therapy sessions.


2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar (or try with Stevia or Xylitol)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 egg (organic or farm fresh is best)
3/4 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup organic expeller pressed sunflower oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 tbsp. homemade strawberry preserves (can substitute with fresh or frozen organic strawberries) or a good quality organic strawberry preserve.
1/4 cup fresh Lemon Basil leaves (chopped) or flowers stripped from stems
1/2 to 1 cup of unsalted raw sunflower seeds (amount depends on desired crunchiness)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rack should be in center of oven. This recipe made 20 muffins. I used baking cups in my muffin pans.

In a large bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil, lemon zest and juice and vanilla extract. Add the strawberry preserves, Lemon Basil and oil to this mixture.

In another large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Whisk it to mix it well. Add in the sunflower seeds. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and mix only until well combined. Over mixing will cause the batter to become to tough.

Fill each baking cup almost full. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out clean they are done.

Place on a wire rack to cool.

If you don't have buttermilk you can make your own by adding one tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for about 5 minute and you will have instant buttermilk.

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Juicing Cactus Fruit For Delicious Nutrition

Freshly Juiced Limes, Cactus Fruit, Coconut and Pineapple

Iced down and Ice Cold fruit juices are so refreshing during the hot summer months. Try this combination with a sprig of freshly picked pineapple sage or your favorite mint for garnish. This combination makes great frozen popsicles too!

Peel 6 to 8 nice juicy limes and place in bowl to be juiced. I use a juicer that is an attachment to my food processor.

Next is preparing the Prickly Pear Fruit, also known as Nopalea Cactus. If you have never had cactus fruit you will be in for a real treat! They are so sweet and juicy and taste like watermelons.

They are abundant right now in Texas and I've been fortunate to score them at the local market at 5 for $1. Needless to say that while they are in season is the best time to stock up.

I've cultivated about 25 prickly pears throughout specific places in the garden where caution can be taken in dealing with their long spines.

Not only do they make wonderful drinks, but jams and jellies as well. They even make superb salad dressings.

Prickly Pear Fruit

Just look how wonderfully red and juicy the Prickly Pear fruits are inside. I first cut them in half and then again into wedges. Just slip your finger up and under the skin and slip it off. I used 3 fruits for making this drink. Place them in the bowl to be juiced with the limes.

Add several chunks of fresh pineapple or you can use 1 cup of organic canned pineapple juice. If using fresh chunks go ahead and place them in the bowl to be juiced as well. Otherwise, save the cup of canned juice to add to your pitcher in the end.

For the coconut you can choose to shred or grate your own or you can do like I do and simply purchase some nice and moist organic coconut already shredded for you. I used 1 cup for this drink.

The key to this is after you run the other fruit through the juicer, begin adding the coconut. Take all the pulp from the juicer and run it back through the juicer 2 or 3 times. You will be so surprised at how much more juice comes through and gives the coconut optimum squeezing time. 

Next, add the concentrate (which is all the juice you just made) to your two quart size pitcher. Fill the pitcher half full of ice. Then simply top it off with cold water and stir vigorously.

You may add 1/2 to 1 cup of honey to the drink and stir in as well for some extra sweetness. The fruit all on its own however is quite refreshing all by itself.

Health Benefits

Prickly Pear Fruit is Beaming with health benefits! If you are a juicer, you will not want to miss out on something new to add to your diet.

The fruit is said to compare to the nutritional value of beets and red Swiss chard. 
Prickly pear cactus contains a relatively rare form of antioxidant called betalains. They also contain powerful antioxidants--polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin C.

The Mexican people have used this fruit medicinally for generations to help treat diabetes. Today's research has found it to definitely help in lowering blood glucose. 

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Embracing the Flavors of Basil

This year has been an exceedingly good year for basil at our homestead. The top choices for basil round off into four distinctive flavors. Each to be savored and enjoyed throughout the year.

Sweet Basil

The most commonly known basil of all is simply Sweet Basil. We enjoy its sweet flavor fresh from the garden in an array of dishes. Paired with garden fresh heirloom tomatoes during the summers harvest leaves you longing for each and every season. My favorite for adding to sauces, as pesto and homemade tomato soup.

Sweet Thai Basil

This basil brings a whole new aspect of cooking to enjoy the kitchen. It's sweet and spicy anise flavor is a favorite in all of my Asian dishes. Whether I'm preparing a stir fry with savory garden vegetables or my favorite egg rolls and crab puffs, there is none other to match the Thai. 

Cinnamon Basil

This basil goes a long way in my Texas kitchen. It is an inspiration to all of my Mexican dishes and breads. Bring me the tamales and enchiladas! Once you have tried the spicy flavor of Cinnamon basil added to your salsa making during pepper harvesting you will know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Magical Michael Basil

A new basil added to my garden this spring and I'm thrilled with it. It is the candy store of all basil! I've not even began to reach it's potential and endless possibilities for the kitchen harvest. In fact, I'm so in love with its sweetness and beauty that it now embraces my beloved Basil Blackberry Jellies. Candy and Perfume is the best way to describe Magical Michael.

Enjoy and Happy Gardening!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Fall Guide For Southern Gardeners

It is my hope to compile all the information you need to plan your fall and winter garden on one page.

Everyone is in a zone that reflects the climate where you live. 

Find Your Hardiness Zone

There are some areas that have a shorter growing season and some areas that can garden year round and many that are in between. 

Find Your Average Frost Date

The success of your fall garden is really all about timing. You will be counting down to the first average frost date for your area. 

Keeping in mind that weather can be unpredictable, we can still have a good harvest in fall if we break down the hardiness and maturing dates of the crops we want to grow. We can do that by breaking it down into two simple groups.

Long Term Crops
First there is the Long Term Crops, which means they are plants that will grow longer into the season and hold up to some frosty weather depending on their hardiness.

 These are usually your leafy greens and some of the root crops. Frost- tolerant vegetables include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, spinach and turnips.

Short Term Crops

Second is the Short Term Crops, which simply means they are the plants to can be easily killed by frost

Your zone may still allow for time to grow many short term crops but you may have to be prepared to help protect them or harvest them early. 

Examples of shot term crops are things like  beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peas, peppers, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and watermelons.
Knowing the maturing dates for your vegetables can also help you to understand how long each crop will take before it is ready to begin harvesting. 
This of course will depend on the weather as well, but we can break those maturing dates into three simple categories.
There is the quick veggies that don’t take long to grow what so ever, the moderate and the slow that takes much more time before they are mature enough to harvest.

Quick Crops

First we have the Quick Crops which will mature within (30 – 60 days) Examples of this group are  beets. bush beans, leaf lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach, summer squash and turnips.

Moderate Crops

The Moderate Crops which will mature within (60 – 80 days) are broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, corn, green onions, kohlrabi, lima bush beans, okra, parsley,  peppers and cherry tomatoes.

Slow Crops

The Slow Crops will mature within (80 days or longer) and they include things like Brussels sprouts, bulb onions, cabbage, cantaloupes, cauliflower, eggplant,  garlic, Irish potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon and winter squash.  
You can find more information written by Prof. Jerry Parsons and Prof. Larry Stein and available at Aggie Horticulture.
Your Local County Extension Office will be able to provide you with information that will detail what varieties and planting dates are recommended for your area.
Here are some direct seeding guides for planting dates in Texas from Aggie Horticulture. 
So make your list and check it twice. The funnest part of the garden is selecting new seed varieties. 
You will still be left with the hard work of planning your garden space and getting it ready to plant. 
I hope to talk more about that soon so be sure to check back.

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The BEE"S in the Lavender BASIL

Lavender Basil Lovingly Embraces Cole Crops

I haven't found a Lavender Variety that wants to flourish in my humid Texas Gulf Coast Climate. I've tried them all, only to be disappointed. So I was very intrigued when I discovered this Lavender Basil. A lovely garden friend so graciously shared seeds with me from her garden. 

The discovery didn't come until late in July, so I knew I would barely have time to get them grown to flower for seeds of my own before the chance of an early frost. I had to go for it quickly! I had a fantastic germination rate and quickly added the plants to lovingly embrace the broccoli, cabbages and Brussels sprouts. 

This combination of companion planting showed tremendous benefits in deterring insects that might want to creep into the Cole crops. But more than that, I was totally surprised by the onset of every type of BEE that could possibly be found simply lavishing in lavender abundance.

My deepest dreams of traveling the countryside of Southern France and running through the hills and fields of lavender suddenly became real in my own gardens right here in Texas....only in a basil sort of way. As I began harvesting baskets full of blooms enhanced with the light sweet floral essence, I found myself totally enchanted.

The questions have been pouring in as to how I intended to use my Lavender Basil. When I first caught wind of this herb my first thoughts were on the perfect answer for creating my favorite blend of Herb De Provence.  Since the French version includes both Basil and Lavender...well....  ;)

French Baguettes with Herbs

You may find it delightful in a savory herb baguette! You'll find my recipe right here!

You might enjoy my story about creating your own Herb De Provence as well!!

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fresh Amaranth Tortilla Flatbread

Yes, it's not the lighting or the camera, the tortillas are really pinkish red in color.

I call them "Indian Summer," which is not to far off from the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth that I used to prepare them. In a previous post I shared using Amaranth Seeds ground into flour to make homemade pasta.

But here I am using the very young leaves of the Amaranth plant, also known as Indian Spinach. It is remarkably flavored just like normal green spinach you would grow in the garden. I do make the tortillas using regular spinach as well as using several other vegetables from the garden for different flavors.

Freshly harvested Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (Young tender leaves)

Most people who love to garden, also love to cook. I happen to love to bake and am always trying new and creative ways to use the harvest. 

In Texas we love our warm freshly made tortillas. I really began making my own out of desperation, and well, one thing led to another. The fact is you simply cannot buy lovely tortillas that are not made with lard or saturated fats, shortening, preservatives, artificial colors and the list goes on. 

It is indeed difficult to make them without all that bad stuff and to have them taste as good. But I searched and experimented and finally came up with a sure cure fix to an excellent homemade tortilla that frankly beats the socks off of any others. 

This recipe uses pure organic unadulterated ingredients and can be made plain or spiffed up to any flavor you desire.You won't believe how easy they are to make. This recipe makes 8 tortillas.


2 cups + organic unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp organic sunflower oil
3/4 cup organic whole milk (warm)
Steamed Chopped Spinach or Amaranth (to make one over sized cup after cooked)

A Nice Round Soft and Sticky Dough Ball


1. First, clean and wash your spinach, then chop it up. You will need to at least double up the amount used fresh, because once you steam it, it will of course shrink. Once steamed, set it aside to cool and drain of some its moisture.

2. Next, in a small sauce pan heat your milk on low, just enough to get it warm.

3. In your mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk with a wire whisk. Start with the 2 cups of flour. You may need to add a little extra once you add the rest of your ingredients. Add your oil and 1 good cup of your chopped spinach.

4. You can make this dough by hand or take it to your mixing stand and add the dough hook. Mix on the 2nd setting of your mixer and add the milk a little at a time. The dough will be sticky by should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it is still soupy add a little more flour. Start with just 1/4 cup a go from there.

5. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of the dough and knead until a nice soft pliable dough ball forms. It should still be very soft and a bit sticky. Do not over work the dough. Doing so will cause your tortillas to become stiff instead of soft and fluffy.

6. Place dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl and turn it once to coat it. Cover it with plastic wrap and then place a towel over it. Set in a warm place and let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Dough Cut into 8 equal pieces

7. Once your dough has rested, turn it out onto your lightly floured surface. Form the dough into a tube shape of sorts and cut it into 8 reasonably equal pieces. Cover with a towel and let the pieces rest for 10 minutes. While it is resting get out your cast iron skillet, a metal spatula and rolling pin.

Rolled out dough just like a pie crust

8. The next step is to flatten out a piece with the palm of your hand, keeping it in a circle. Next begin rolling it out from the middle towards the outsides, much like you would a pie crust. Lightly dust with flour is dough becomes to sticky. Flip it over and roll from the other side. Do each piece and set them aside until they are all rolled out. The key here is roll them as thin as possible, but not so thin they become hard to work with.

9. Turn your stove top on high heat and begin to get your cast iron skillet hot. Once it is hot, you may turn it down to medium depending upon your stove.

It is fine to use a tiny bit of oil in the skillet, however I found no purpose for doing so. The cook perfectly without it. Place one of your tortillas on the skillet. Let cook approximately 20 to 30 seconds on each side.

The tortilla will puff just a little around the edges when it is done. Keep a close eye to be careful not to burn them. Set each one on a wire rack, just long enough for the next tortilla to almost be done.

 I keep a tortilla keeper handy and set each one inside stacking them while they are still just barely warm. When they are completed I put the lid on. Let them completely cool and then flip the entire stack inside the keeper to keep the bottom tortilla from getting soggy. This process keeps them soft.

 Tortilla Keeper

Of course I cannot share this recipe without a little Native American History. Since we are baking with Hopi Red Dye Amaranth in this recipe I must share. 

When a Hopi woman found a man in which she wished to marry, she would bake a special bread made of cornmeal and amaranth called Piki Bread. 

It would be a reddish colored bread. She would take her bread to the home of the man she wished to marry and leave it at the door step for the mother of the hopeful groom to be.

 If the mother brought the bread inside, then it meant that the marriage was approved. Many times a brother of the hopeful groom or a friend would bring the bread inside so the young woman would not be embarrassed. 

The mother would then taste the bread as well as the mothers sisters, aunts, grandmother...all the women would decide if the woman's bread was worthy to marry. 

There is much more to the tradition and the story but for now, perhaps for the single ladies, we should begin to bake!!  

We that with like hearts love, we lovers twain,
New wedded in the village by thy fane,
Lady of all chaste love, to thee it is
We bring these amaranths, these white lilies,
A sign, and sacrifice; may Love, we pray,
Like amaranthine flowers, feel no decay;
Like these cool lilies may our loves remain,
Perfect and pure, and know not any stain;
And be our hearts, from this thy holy hour,
Bound each to each, like flower to wedded flower.
~Joachim du Bellay "A Vow To Heavenly Venus," ca. 1500 

Happy Gardening!!