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Herbs And Spices : Basil

"Basil is a well-known culinary herb that's popular in many Italian dishes. But did you know that there are many other uses of this herb, including its use as a tonic to aid in digestion? The most common use of basil is for cooking, such as in tomato sauce, pesto, or vinegars. But it also can be sprinkled over salads and sliced tomatoes, either whole or chopped. Actually, don’t chop the leaves, but tear them instead for the most flavor.

To make oil for salads, pound the fresh leaves and mix with a good salad or vegetable oil. If freezing the leaves, coat them with olive oil first. Leaves also can be dried and stored in salt.

In the landscape, don’t merely relegate basil to the herb or vegetable garden. Consider planting it in scented gardens, or use it as edging along a bed or path that you'll brush past and release the aroma. Or try mass plantings of basil in a border, plant in decorative outdoor containers, or grow in pots indoors, if you have lots of light. In ancient times, pots of basil on the windowsill were used to deter flies.

Other uses of basil include the cosmetic. Put fresh leaves in a hot bath as an infusion, for example. As a tonic, steep a few leaves in wine for several hours. Or steep in water as a tea to aid digestion. A drop of basil oil on shirtsleeves will help counteract mental fatigue.

Common Basil, also referred to as Sweet Basil, grows at a moderate rate. Depending on which of the many cultivars you grow, plants can be either upright or mounded. 'Green Globe' is a compact mound, only about a foot high, and great for edging. The foliage is green to purple, again depending on cultivar, and distinctly aromatic.

'Purple Ruffles' is a popular cultivar with both purple foliage and ruffled edges to the leaves. The flowers are terminal, spike-like racemes that are usually purple or white.

Basil can be propagated from seed. Sow seeds eight to ten weeks before planting outside in a well-drained soil. Or sow directly in the garden. Your site should have rich, well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight for several hours a day.

Throughout the season, remove flower spikes to promote increased growth and branching. Pruning the plants every two to three weeks also will promote growth. Basil does not tolerate frost well, so if you want to overwinter, take stem cuttings late in the season. Thinking about growing basil? Then try one of these five main species of basil:

Lemon Basil (Ocimum americanum) has a bushy habit, grows to two feet tall, and has an intense lemony fragrance.

Camphor Basil (Ocimum kilmandscharicum) is an annual shrub reaching about five feet tall in a season. It becomes woody with camphor-scented leaves that can be used in sachets to protect woolens and as a tea for stomach aches.

Tree Basil (Ocimum grattissimum) is similar to Camphor Basil and has fuzzy, lime-green leaves scented like pennyroyal. A tea of its leaves is used for colds and fevers, the leaves are burned to repel mosquitoes, and the thymol content of one cultivar makes this useful for wounds, gargling, and conjunctivitis.

Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum or sanctum) is an annual shrub with spicy clove-like scented leaves that reaches two feet in height. It is the sacred basil of the Hindus, who use it in both cooking and medicines.

Bush Basil (Ocimum basilicum)--also known as Sweet or Common Basil--is native to the Old World Tropics (India, Africa, Asia). In India it is believed to hold divine essence. In some Greek Orthodox churches it is used to prepare holy water, as it was found growing around Christ's tomb after the Resurrection. In Haiti, Bush Basil is associated with a pagan love goddess named Erzulie, and in Mexico it is used in potions to attract lovers."

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Sources : Thai Basil Photo | Basil Article
Tips : Zesting Lemons (And Other Citrus Fruits)

"Zest is the outer peel of the fruit (without the white pith underneath) and is often used in baking and cooking because of the strong flavored oils it contains. Here are three different ways you can zest a lemon plus a few tips that include ideas for using the rest of the peel (instead of wasting it).

Good to Know: These techniques also work for other citrus fruits (like oranges and limes).

Use a zester tool that will easily scrape away the bright yellow peel, it is designed to have sharp edges and holes that will pull up the peel as you drag the gadget across the fruit. This little gadget is a small but handy kitchen tool! You’ll also find a variation of this tool (Lemon Stripper) that removes the outer peel one strip at a time. I found a quick video on YouTube that shows you how both gadgets work (I added it to the bottom of the page so you can view it if you like).

Use a grater with fine holes (a small hand grater is great but you can use the larger graters too–just use the side with the fine holes). Carefully drag the fruit across the surface and make sure to only grate the top bright yellow peel and not the white pith underneath.

If you have a sharp vegetable peeler, this will also work. Drag it across the fruit back and forth to pull up the peel then use a knife to cut off the strands that are still attached to the fruit.

There are a few different ways you can save it for future use…

Drying: Spread excess zest in a thin layer across a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper, allow to dry at room temperature for about 24 hours. Once fully dried, keep in an airtight container and store away from heat (pantry shelf or cupboard). Some prefer grinding it fine before storing away.

Freezing: Wrap in plastic wrap then freeze in an airtight container. You can also freeze the peels like this then just grate the frozen peels as you need.

Refrigeration: Keep excess sealed in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate until needed, will keep for a few days.

You’ll get about 1 tablespoon of zest from one medium lemon.

Handy Equivalents: 1 teaspoon fresh zest = 2 tablespoon juice = 1 teaspoon dried zest = 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.

When zesting, make sure to leave behind the white pith, it’s bitter and typically avoided in recipes.

Have more than you need? Use it to make flavored sugar, it’s delicious in baking and added to beverages (like tea)."

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Sources : Zesting Lemons Photo | Zesting Lemons Basics
News : Switchel Crawls Out Of Relative Obscurity

Hipsters, meet Switchel. It's an American heritage beverage made of apple cider vinegar, ginger and sweetener. It has long been drunk by farmers during haying season, but can now be bought at your local food shop. No longer do you need to be working on a farm to be rewarded with this strong, witchy brew. Now, you can head down to your local bodega (or Whole Foods) and get yourself a mason jar -- yes, mason jar -- full of the restorative stuff thanks to Up Mountain Switchel, a born in Vermont but based in New York company that brews and bottles their recipe in Brooklyn.

Up Mountain Switchel is one of the handful of companies that's selling this working-man's drink. And you know what? We're glad about it, because switchel is awesome. It's refreshingly bold and downright intense. Taking a sip is like jumping into water that's about 10 degrees colder than you expected -- it hurts, but in one of those hurt-so-good ways.

Switchel is a simple beverage, and while it can be sweetened with sugar, honey or molasses (which is the most traditional), the sample we tried, from Up Mountain Switchel, used maple syrup. (Because Vermont, duh.) You could probably make this beverage at home -- the Kitchn has a good recipe -- but not everyone is into that type of thing. In which case, these Vermonters have got you covered.

Homemade or store-bought, we're partial to elevating this beverage with a little gin. Or, using it as a hangover helper. (The intense vinegar would be enough to scare any headache away.) Up Mountain also suggests trying it in salad dressings, in stocks or marinades. And if you're feeling under the weather, you can also heat it up and drink it warm. Three simple ingredients, and yet so many possibilities.

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Sources : Switchel Photo | Switchel Article
Recipe : Cranberry Orange Muffins

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup fresh/frozen cranberries, roughly chopped
Demerara sugar (about a tsp per muffin)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with baking spray or line with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine milk, orange juice, sour cream, eggs, and butter and whisk until well combined. In another mixing bowl, add sugar and orange zest. Use your fingers to rub orange zest into the sugar until distributed and fragrant. Add in flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated. Fold in the cranberries.

Spoon batter into prepared pans (I use an ice cream scoop to make it easier) and fill each muffin cup about 2/3 of the way full. Sprinkle about one teaspoon of demerara sugar over the top of each muffin. Bake about 20 - 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and spring back lightly to the touch. Cool in pans about 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Sources : Cranberry Orange Muffins Photo | Cranberry Orange Muffins Article
Drinks : Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade
2 cups fresh blackberries
12 fresh mint leaves
4 large slices of lemon peel (I like Meyer Lemons if you can find them)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup brown sugar simple syrup (1/4 cup brown sugar dissolved in ¼ cup water)
4-6 ounces bourbon whiskey (kick it up some more if desired)- Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, or Knob Creek

In a bowl or pitcher, muddle the blackberries, mint leaves and lemon peel together until the juice is gently extracted from the berries. Add the lemon juice, brown sugar simple syrup and bourbon whiskey to the blackberry mixture. Stir to combine. Add ice to 4 glasses. Place a small strainer over each glass, then carefully pour even amounts of the tasty cocktail into each glass. If you like some pulp in your drink feel free to add some to each glass. If you like to garnish your cocktail, add some whole blackberries and some fresh mint.

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Sources : Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade# Photo | Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade Article
Recipe : Lasagna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

2 small spaghetti squash, cut in half and seeded
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cottage or ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

for the sauce:
1 lb ground turkey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the insides of the spaghetti squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash skin side up on a baking sheet and roast 30 minutes, until tender.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey to the pan and cook, breaking it up into the onions, until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and fennel and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, bay leaf, paprika, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the spaghetti squash is cooked. Remove sauce from heat and stir in the basil.

5. Fluff up some of the inside of each spaghetti squash half, divide the the cottage cheese between them followed by the sauce and the mozzarella.

6. Broil in the oven until the cheese has melted and turned a light golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.


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Sources : Lasagna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Photo | Lasagna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash Article