Preserving Spring Herbs, Grilling Tips, Yummy Grilled Pizza

Our family loves to grill and it doesn’t matter the season. Neil as well as the boys get the grill fired up winter, spring, summer and fall~ it is respecter of no season!  The only difference is the location; in the warm days it’s on the patio, in the winter it’s in the garage.  When the warm days of spring roll around it is our daily companion for cooking! Neil won’t let me touch the grill~ we, the grill & I go back a long way. You see when Neil & I were dating there were two incidents that banished me from the grill side.  They now are quite funny. The first episode was when we were very newly dating.  We went to a park and Neil wanted to grill some steaks. It was a beautiful day and we were having a very nice afternoon. Neil had to use the restroom so asked me to take care of the grill. Well, I had never grilled before, but I wanted to help where I could, so of course I said yes. I don’t really know what happened but suddenly one of the steaks was on the ground. Horrified I quickly picked it up and put it back on the grill, dirt side down of course- Neil would never notice, surely it would cook off.  There comes Neil leisurely strolling back with all trust in his eyes having faith I had taken care of his steaks that he was quite hungry for.  Well, it didn’t take him long to realize once he flipped the steak that something went awry while he was gone.  I looked at him innocently and said it was a mistake and I was sure that it would cook off.  He was not so sure, so I said I would wash it off. It was quite windy that day, and while I took it to the ladies room and diligently washed it, the coals had died out… so in the end, the sea gulls got the steak.  I will tell the next story some other time…  

Beautiful Oregano in the Greenhouse!

*Preserving Spring Herbs…                                      
We use herbs a lot in our cooking and I am fortunate enough to have greenhouse’s and hoop houses to grow in year round.  I do realize that not everyone has this luxury so here are some tips on preserving herbs starting right in the spring when many of the perennial ones are popping up right now~ chives, oregano, sage and parsley would be the main ones right now for us living in Michigan and similar climates.
*The easiest way is to simply dry your herbs using a dehydrator;  baking on a cookie sheet in a 150 degree oven until dry- length of time depends on herb- don’t pile on the pan- just put in a single layer; you can also bunch and tie with rubber bands and hang upside down from drying racks, or rafters in the basement. Direct sunlight should be avoided. Parsley is the only one I don’t like to do this type of drying to- although I am not sure why, but it looses it’s color!  To store, keep in air tight glass jars or plastic containers.
*Freezing is also easy & fast- chives and parsley work best with this method.
*We love Pesto- make your recipe in big batch quantity and freeze in plastic containers, baby food jars or jelly jars. Remember to leave at least an inch head space when freezing!
*You can also pack 2 cups of any fresh culinary herb with 1/2 cup oil~ I would use safflower or canola- olive oil will leave a strong flavor- fill baby food jars, small plastic containers or jelly jars and freeze this way as well.  This works great when you want to baste on any meat, saute veggies or meat in, or brush on bread for brushetta, pizza crust or bread sticks.

Here are some grilling tips from Neil:

*If you love garlic like we do, try throwing a few fresh garlic cloves on the hot coals to add extra flavor to your goodies.
*Neil loves to smoke stuff~ if you want to wow your guests, try adding some hickory, apple wood or cherry wood chips or sawdust on the coals for an extra special treat. Make sure you soak the chips in water  for about hour before you are ready to put them on the coals; if using sawdust just get wet.
*If you are using charcoal, then keep a spray bottle with water to spray on the coals to keep temperature down so it doesn’t get too hot.
*Neil likes to brush the grill with some olive oil before putting the food on, this helps it to not stick.

Yummy Grilled Pizza!
Last summer we fell in love with grilling pizza! The children enjoyed it both in the way of having fun because they created their own masterpieces and it was absolutely delicious.  Here is my pizza crust recipe and some of our favorite toppings! 

Crust:
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. raw organic sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 cups flour, plus some for dusting

Toppings:
shredded cheese
fresh Portobella mushrooms
sweet peppers
onions
bacon, ham, sausage, ground beef or chicken
pizza sauce, ranch dressing
tomatoes
… these are just some ideas, use your favorite toppings

1. In a large, mixing bowl add yeast to water and stir gently; add sugar, salt and olive oil, stir in gently until dissolved.
2. Add 2 cups of flour, mix in until well blended; add 1 more cup flour, mix in well; and the rest of flour in 1/4 cups at a time until the dough is soft and doesn’t stick to hands.  Add a bit more flour in until the dough feels right;  Knead dough for about 2-3 minutes until all flour is mixed in well.  Form into a ball and place in bowl, cover with kitchen towel and leave on the top of stove to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
3. While dough is rising get your toppings prepared.  Sauteing the veggies is best and making sure any raw meats are cooked.
4.When dough has risen, punch it down using your hands and knead a bit more into a ball again.  On a floured surface, cut the dough into 4 even sized pieces and roll out to about and 1/2 inch thick. The dough should be thicker so it doesn’t fall apart on the grill.
5. Brush the dough with Olive Oil and put on heated grill; grill on one side for about 2-3 minutes, checking to be sure it doesn’t burn; when the one side is done, remove from grill onto a cookie sheet, cooked side up; put your toppings on the cooked side; sauce, cheese, meat & veggies and add a bit more cheese; return to the grill to finish grilling- about 2-3 more minutes; put lid on for about the last minute to help melt the cheese.
Remove from grill and have your feast!  

Happy Day,
Jean

Homemade "Flower Fresh" Recipe, More Garden Tips & Simple Cuttings & yummy Mini Farmers Market Pizza’s

The daffodils, forsythias & magnolias are all in full bloom~ it is absolutely magnificent! It is about 9Pm right now and the rain just started coming down~ it sounds like a calm and steady straight down rain.  Evan, Ryan & I got several things planted in the raised beds & the kitchen garden today and this rain is such a blessing for all those little seeds and soon to be us 🙂 ! Ryan wanted to pick his teacher a bouquet with the daffodils for tomorrow, he is so sweet.  He loves to make bouquets and plant things.  We were planting beets in a few of the raised beds after school today and all of a sudden he was gone.  I called after him and he was getting ready to till up the spot he had worked in last summer.  “Too wet yet” I told him.  Raised beds are different then regular gardens, they dry out quite a bit quicker and you can get lots more stuff in them faster. One more reason why I am all about raised beds!  We all love those first spring bouquets and they never seem to last long enough.  You can add some vase life to them with a really simple homemade ‘Flower Fresh’ fresh recipe~ all ingredients you are sure to have right in your own home!

*Homemade “Flower Fresh”
Put 1/2 tsp. of regular household bleach and 1 tsp. sugar to every 1 cup of room temperature water.  Change water every 5-7 days.
If you snip just a 1/4 inch off the bottom of the stems each day, this will also help.
You will be able to keep your bouquets looking nice for about 2-3 weeks.  

*More Garden Tips
There are so many things that I have read & picked up over the years that it seems I could write on & on about this stuff forever… so here are a few more tried & true tips! Have fun…
*If you have trouble with flies coming in the house, try putting a potted Basil on the step or porch by each of your doors and if you have a window ledge outside you kitchen window or any other put a few there. Not are they only helpful here, just think how easy it will be to make Brushetta or Pesto now…. oh now that is sooo yummy!
*If you have shrubs or trees that need pruned in the spring, lay a tarp under the area to be pruned; then when you are done, simply fold up the tarp and dispose of in your compost or burn pile… easy as pie!
*It is seed planting time and some of those seeds are soo tiny! Lettuce & carrot to mention just a couple.  Try using a large holed salt or sugar shaker~ simply put your seed in it and then shake them out in your prepared row!  So easy!
*Weeding can be a trying experience even for the gardener who loves to garden. If at all possible, weed after a rain, everything comes out easier.
*Mulching is a time & back saver!  If you know a farmer that has cows, horses or sheep they will have hay & straw.  Bales often pop open and there is always loose straw around.  Ask if you clean up the loose straw & hay if you can have it.  I lay newspaper down my isles in the garden and even in the raised beds between the rows, and then cover with straw.  Some people will say then you will be planting the seeds~ it’s green manure!  Plus I rather deal with the very minimal seeding as opposed to the hours of hoeing, tilling and hand weeding!   I will be touching more on mulching & it’s importance in coming posts!
*Simple Cuttings
are very easy to do. Here are instructions on how to start your own Rose & Forsythia. 
~ For a new rose bush all you need to do is cut a stem with a full bloom rose on it.  Stick the stem into the ground.  Leave a few of the leaves at the top with the bloom.  Water the ground thoroughly and put a clear glass jar over it- like a mason jar- if you have a 2 quart jar that would be best, but a 1 quart works well too- and anchor it into the ground by twisting it until the jar is in the ground up to its shoulder; place a rock on it.  Keep the soil watered around jar every day until frost.  don’t remove the jar until next spring.  You will then have a new rose bush growing!  I have tried this and it worked~ I got 2 out of 6 new roses.
~ Forsythia is super easy too!  If you have a friend with a bush you are all set~ I am sure she/he will let you have a start.  Forsythia branches will tend to ‘bend’ down and when the tips meet the ground they root on their own!  Go to the shrub and you will see gobs of branches that appear to be separate bushes, but in actuality they are branches rooted down.  All you need to do is cut the branch from the actual mother plant and carefully dig up the ‘rooted branch’.  Put in a bucket of water with the flower fresh in it and transplant into the location you have for it at home! Presto~ your own forsythia!

Mini Farmers Market Pizza’s

These nifty little pizza’s are so much fun for the children because you can let each one of them create their very own masterpiece!  Not to mention they can put whatever toppings they like best. Here is one way, but be creative and have a yummy fun time!

6 Pita Rounds
1 1/2 cups pizza sauce
1 cup fresh Spinach from Garden Gate Farm, washed & snipped into bite size pieces
1 medium Red Onion from Garden Gate Farm, chopped 
2 Roma Tomatoes from Willowridge farm, sliced thinly with seeds removed
2 cups mixed shredded cheese- choose two types for a more interesting flavor
Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 cup fresh Parsley from Garden Gate Farm, snipped

1.  Place pita rounds on an ungreased baking sheet and spread each with 1/4 cup of pizza sauce.
2. Top with cheese; put tomato, spinach & onions on top.
3. Drizzle 1/2 tsp. oil over each pizza; sprinkle 1 tsp. parsley over each;
4. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese over each.
5. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly!

Happy Day,
Jean