Earlier this year when I had the MO roundup, I wanted to make something really neat for the cooks to take home with them. Gifts from the garden, so to speak, but what to make? The year before the cook's gift was a potted herb in a one of a kind pot. I
had envisioned full lush pots of happy herbs just waiting to be used. Not quite an epic fail but not what I expected either so I decided to look at other herbal gift ideas. Flavored sugar and salt seemed doable. Two simple ingredients with some herbs thrown
in. What could be easier? I just needed cute jars and a recipe, which I was sure I could find on the Internet. Turns out everyone has their own idea of "how to" and "how much" when flavoring salt or sugar. After much reading, I decided to go with the food
processor for incorporation and winging it with the herb amounts. I knew exactly what I wanted my end result to be so how much trouble could it beor sugar. After much reading, I decided to go with the food processor for incorporation and winging it with the
herb amounts. I knew exactly what I wanted my end result to be so how much trouble could it be.
With the salt, it was just a matter of adjusting the herb amounts. I wanted a nice strong flavored salt that would add that burst of garlic and oregano to bread sticks or pasta or anything else for that matter.
The sugar I made a small miscalculation in the drying procedure resulting in one large piece of minty rock candy the first time. Well, the salt pretty much dried on its own so why wouldn't the sugar. Alton Brown could tell you the molecular "whys"
but I'm going to share with you the "what I
did's" so you can make these simple recipes to use for yourself or for gifts. Plus, I have 2 extras to share, both of which I find rather exciting.
Ok, so exciting might be a little strong but one I found very useful and the other, well, just plain interesting from an herb grower's point of view.
Let's start with the sugar since I forgot to get pictures of the salt for some reason. It is the same process for both.
Wash and dry 4 cups of fresh mint leaves. I left the stems if they weren't too tough. Use your salad spinner to get the mint dry. In a food processor, add all the mint. Add 1 cup of sugar and pulse in the food processor. Add 3 more cups of sugar, one cup
at a time pulsing in between each addition
Here is where I went wrong the first time. I put my wet sugar on my solid trays in the dehydrator just as I did the salt expecting the same result. A nice granulated substance that made the garage smell like a pizzeria. Not that I expected the sugar to
have the pizzeria smell, just for it to return to its small granulated form. That will only happen if you do this to dry your sugar.
1. Turn your oven on to 200 degrees F.
2. Line cookie sheets with foil for easy of handling when finished drying. I did enough sugar at once that I needed two cookie sheets.
3. Place both trays in oven and watch carefully. Take out one tray after 5 minutes and stir with a fork. Return to oven and immediately repeat with second tray. When the #2 tray goes back in take out #1 and repeat. This takes several minutes but you want
that sugar dry. Trust me.
If you are wondering why I used so much mint when other cooks recommend a sprig or two tossed in with several cups of sugar and allowed to dry over a period of time. Because I wanted to make these.
Touch of the Tropics Tea cookie
I wanted to make up a new cookie recipe showcasing the mint sugar to share with my cooks for our dessert. I figured a sprig of mint wouldn't cut it if I wanted any kind of mint flavor in my new cookie recipe. Yes, I know mint extract can be overwhelming
when used in excess but the herbed sugar isn't. Besides, I wanted to be able to see the flecks of mint in the cookie and I thought it was cool that the sugar turned such a lovely shade of green naturally!
My DH likes takeout garlic bread sticks. He has never quite come out and said it but the implication has always been there that my homemade bread sticks are a pale comparison. Not anymore! Using a blend of my
oreganos (I have 5 varieties), chives, garlic and garlic chives I made a
herbed finishing salt that I use for more than garlicky bread sticks.
Garlic Oregano Salt
These measurements are not precise but I think everyone can use their own judgment where their taste buds are concerned.
2 cups rough chopped fresh chives & garlic chives
3 minced cloves of garlic
3 cups rough chopped fresh oregano, your favorite flavor. I just happen to like a blend of mine.
Pulse the herbs and 1 cup of kosher salt in food processor until blended well. In a bowl, add 4 more cups of kosher salt and your
herbed salt. Either use your oven at 200 degree F to dry your salt or your dehydrator if you have solid trays. The salt doesn't have to be stirred, as it does not turn into one solid rock hard lump.
I have used this salt in and on everything. I really like the salty burst of
herbed flavor it can bring to my plate. Salty foods are one of my favorite things: however, we all know we should watch our salt consumption. Since I try to not use much salt while cooking, I find that at the finish
a small pinch of this salt really perks up whatever I'm eating. Be it pasta or a baked potato. And my garlic bread sticks finally have won over the DH.
I'm pretty sure this salt gives my infamous cheese crackers and extra boost too. Just ask the ladies that have tried them. I don't like store bought
cheezits now that I have perfected this recipe. And no, I haven't updated the one that is in my recipe box yet. It is on the list of things to do.
Onto the new and exciting stuff I have just learned about. Recently there was a discussion on
Facebook about washing your face with olive oil.
Hmm, I seemed to remember my cousin saying something about that several years ago. What really caught my attention was a comment in this discussion about using an olive oil sugar scrub and how this friend really liked
it. Well, I have seen sugar scrubs before and didn't think much about them but since my friend liked it I thought I should check it out. So I looked at different websites and the links for the olive oil wash. Found
a recipe for the scrub and thought, hey, why not? Then I thought why just use plain sugar? Why not use my minted sugar while I was at the experiment. I knew peppermint worked for your stomach and in aromatherapy for headaches so I looked at skin care uses.
It's reported that spearmint is healing in the bath and when
decocted strongly heals chapped hands.
Applemint and lemon balm are soothing and cleansing in a facial steam. All right then, got them all covered my minted sugar has
applemint, lemon balm, spearmint and peppermint in it. I used this recipe-
The smell of mint when I mixed this together was nice. Mint being one of the few things my nose will pick up. I was rather afraid of smelling too minty so I used this one day when I wasn't going anywhere, just in case. Yes, it is a little messy to use
but in the nice warm bathroom that mint smell was so soothing and I wondered if headache sufferers might not benefit from this scrub. *A word of caution, if you do try this recipe watch it in the shower, the olive oil can make your floor a little slippery!*
I was shocked at the results after using the scrub and showering as usual. My skin has become so dry this winter that I have been using what amounts to axle grease to alleviate itchy and dry as the Sahara skin. Minute I am out of the shower that nasty
stuff would have to go on and then the 20 minute
wait for it to absorb. Yuck and I would still have dry patches! After using the scrub, I was not itchy and I could use my lightweight summer moisturizer. I have been using this about 3 times a week for 2 weeks now and I am happy to report this is so
working for me! I've also been experimenting with washing with olive oil too. Again, a note of caution because not everything you read on the Internet is true, shocking I know. You can always do your own research and I certainly encourage that, but I'm sold
on doing this because along the way I read about honey and sugar's benefits to the skin. Both are
humectants meaning they bring moisture to the skin. Honey has claims as an anti-oxidant and sugar is said to contain alpha
hydroxy acid. Sugar is supposed to be a milder gentler
exfoliant too. And just think you can add whatever herb or essential oil to your own homemade scrubs that might benefit your skin to its fullest or your nose.
Now for my 2nd exciting discovery! I know I should maybe get out more. Follow me along on this quest and see if you don't find this just a little interesting.
The dear lady that came and helped in the garden recently (you met her on the
WWOOF blog) brought along and herb for my collection. She called it
Ok, it smelled like mint. BUT it was growing wrong and its taste had bitter after notes unlike any of my mints. I was pretty sure it wasn't a mint. But what was it? I questioned her as to where she got it. She thought maybe a private sale, maybe a nursery.
She had the plant a long time. She used it to make tea. There was something about this plant that reminded me of something else. It was irritating that I couldn't think what.
First off, I googled because I wanted an answer. I came up with several different types of mints but this plant didn't match any of these. If you are wondering why I was so sure it wasn't a mint, remember I said it was growing wrong?
This is applemint.
This is peppermint.
You see how both plants have a straight stem with many leaves coming off that stem? That was my first clue. Any of the mints I have here and what I saw on my search grows that way. This
plant's leaves grew straight off a woody rootstock on individual stems rather like a violet.
Was I able to find out what the plant was quickly? Nope, took me two weeks. Had I the patience, I could have looked page by page in my tried and true herb book (The Complete Book of Herbs by Leslie
Bremness, I highly recommend this as a good basic herb book) and found it.
I brushed up against this plant in the sun room one day and again was taken by its minty aroma so back to the quest I went instead of on with the chores. That and I had been looking at my Shasta daisies thinking their leaf pattern was oddly similar. I
plugged in the correct search phrase, finally, and found a chat forum where someone asked almost the same question. There were several suggestions there and on of them rang a bell. So I looked it up and sure enough, there it was.
It is called Alecost because it does have bitter notes to it and was used in brewing ale. Cost derives from the Latin
costum, meaning spicy oriental herb.
Alecost, well, spicy herb for ale. Costmary is Mary's or women's spicy herb. Common names for the herb include balsam herb due to its smell, Bible leaf as it was said to repel bugs from bibles and its smell
could keep one alert during long sermons. Mint geranium is a misnomer because
costmary is not related to the mint family (Labiatae) or the geranium family (Geraniaceae). Another interesting fact I found was that originally this herb was always
classified as Tanacetum
balsamita but now is becoming more widely known as Chrysanthemum
balsamita. Why? I didn't find the answer to that one. There is so much to learn about the classification of plants.
Plants and herbs can easily be mislabeled when common names are used or they came out of great great grandma's garden and have been handed down. Information can get lost. Luckily, for my friend this wasn't one of the herbs that was used long ago but is
now classified as toxic. For me, it was exciting to learn about this herb. Herb lore has interested me as far back as grade school. Too bad I didn't know how fascinating I would find it when I was in college and
could have studied it more in depth. However, a dear friend recently told me you can always learn, you don't have to go to college for that. Lady Sparkle you were right because I have been learning. And there is so much to keep learning.
I hope you enjoyed today's journey through my garden and into my kitchen. Until next time, may your garden whatever size it may be, help set your table. Or supply your cosmetic needs :)(: