Herb gardens save money, taste great

Be wary of introducing mint into a flower bed. It will spread and take over, smelling minty fresh, but leaving little room for the original flowers. Herbs like mint behave better in a pot.

Culinary sage is a great plant for a border, although the flowering stage is short-lived. The leaves on this perennial herb are aromatic and savory all year, making it possible to cook with fresh sage even in the middle of winter.



Matzo Brei Shepherd’s Pie
Start to finish: 1 hour 5 minutes (35 minutes active). Servings: 6.

For the filling:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 medium)
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups diced cooked brisket
1 1/2 cups beef broth
Salt and ground black pepper

For the topping:

4 matzos
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.

To make the filling, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent, 3–5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to brown, about another 5 minutes. Add the carrots and thyme, then cook, stirring often, for another 7 minutes.

Stir in the matzo meal and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, for 2 minutes. Stir in the diced brisket and beef broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is simmering and has thickened slightly, 3–5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.

To make the topping, crumble the matzos into a large colander placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold the colander under running cold water until the matzos are moist and softened, but not completely disintegrated, 15–20 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with crumbs. Add the eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork. Spread the matzo mixture in an even layer over the top of the brisket mixture, then sprinkle with pepper. Bake until the matzo brei topping is golden and the brisket filling is bubbling.

Simon and Garfunkel potatoes

Handful of each:
chopped fresh parsley
chopped fresh sage
chopped fresh thyme
chopped fresh rosemary
4 - 8 large potatoes, (Yukon Gold are great, reds are good, but even russets will do in a pinch - the number of potatoes varies according to the number of people you want to feed - use one more potato than there are people)
olive oil
salt, pepper

In general, use more parsley in proportion to the other herbs (I generally end up with 1/4 to 1/2 C of chopped parsley.)  Use equal amounts of other herbs, although if your rosemary plant isn’t very large yet, you may not want to whack it too much. Use larger handfuls of herbs if you’re combining them with eight potatoes rather than four.  Spray a large, low-sided baking sheet with a non-stick coating. Cut the potatoes (no need to peel) into 1/2-inch dice or smaller and arrange in a pile on baking sheet.
Toss chopped herbs into potatoes and drizzle with a generous sloshing of olive oil. Mix everything together with your hands so all the potatoes have an herby coating, then spread out so they’re in a single layer across the baking sheet. Generously sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.
Roast in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Check to see if one side is becoming too brown, you may need to turn them with a spoon and roast until they’re brown and crispy on all sides, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Even if you have limited space, limited knowledge and a limited budget, it’s possible to have a successful herb garden.

Even better, for those who love to cook, it’s possible to grow an herb garden that saves a substantial amount of money, since herbs at the grocery store can get pricey and are often sold in quantities that result in too much waste.

“Most herbs like poor soil,” said Dr. Carl Hochmuth, advanced master gardener with Colorado State University Tri-River Area Extension.

Although the mantra repeated by master gardeners about local soil is, amend, amend, amend, herbs aren’t that particular. In fact, many herbs, like sage, parsley, oregano, chives and mint, will be more aromatic and flavorful if grown in poor soil. Other herbs, like basil, grow better in amended soil.

Some herbs are perennials, which means they’ll grow from year to year without replanting, while others are annuals, which means they’ll complete their life cycle in a single season. Some herbs which are perennials elsewhere, like rosemary, may die due to cold winter temperatures in the Grand Valley. Other herbs which are technically annuals, like dill and parsley, may re-seed themselves in the same patch of ground the following year.

It’s possible to grow herbs in an existing flower or vegetable garden. It’s also possible to grow them in pots. Many herbs have a tendency to spread and take over, which means that confining a particular herb to a pot may be a great idea, unless you don’t care that a flower bed becomes a mint and parsley bed in just a few years.

Although most herbs do well in our climate, a few can’t take the heat. Cilantro, which makes such an excellent ingredient in fresh salsas, has a tendency to bolt long before the tomatoes ripen. Dill often goes to seed long before the cucumbers are big enough to pickle.

Pick it and allow it to dry for use later.

If you’re growing herbs for cooking, make sure your herb garden is near the kitchen. If you have to hike a quarter-mile every time you want a sprig of parsley, you probably won’t use much parsley.

If you’re growing herbs because they’re pretty and smell good, you might want your garden or your pots of herbs in a prominent place that will allow you to enjoy it whenever you’re outside.

Basil pesto

4 C basil leaves

3/4 C shredded parmesan cheese

3/4 C shredded Romano cheese

4 - 6 cloves of garlic

3/4 C olive oil

1 C pine nuts

Toast the pine nuts under the broiler until brown, about 1 minute under high heat. Put all ingredients in the food processor and process until it’s a thick, paste-like consistency.

Use with pasta, as a pizza sauce, on sandwiches, in Italian quesadillas, in wraps or as a starter for a salad dressing. This can be doubled, with extra pesto stored in small containers in the freezer. Allow it to defrost slowly — defrosting in the microwave will cause the cheese to melt & coagulate.

Mint Pesto

(adapted from the Macheesmo cooking blog post, “Mint Pesto.” Retrieved on March 29, 2012 from http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/05/mint-pesto/)

1 1/2 Cups loosely packed fresh mint

1/2 Cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

3 cloves garlic

1/3 Cup Parmesan cheese

1/3 Cup olive oil (maybe a bit more)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in the food processor and process until thick and paste-like.

Note from Penny: I have not made this particular recipe, but with a herb garden that’s continually overrun with mint and parsley, it’s the first recipe I’ll be trying once the mint appears.


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