lessons in drying herbs

I recently decided to dry a bushel of rosemary. (Note: “Bushel” is defined here as, “as much rosemary as Lacey could carry and still see enough to put one foot in front of the other.”) When you dry enough rosemary to keep a college dining hall well-seasoned for a year, you learn a few things.

jar of dried rosemary

  1. Only dry what you can use within a year.My bushel of rosemary was not only a pain in the ass to process, but it made way more dried rosemary than I anticipated. I’ll be giving away dry rubs and salts for several months in the frantic hope that I give it away before the flavors all dissipate.
  2. Rinse well.Especially if you grew your own herbs in a garden, or got them from a buddy with a similar set-up. My bushel of rosemary was laced with weeds, dried grass, tiny beetles, and a nice layer of dirt, none of which I want on my chicken. Rinse each sprig of herb well, then either pat it dry or lay it out to dry.
  3. Let air circulate.If you’re not doing the oven-drying method, it’s important to dry your herbs in such a way that lots of air can get to the leaves. Remember, you’ve just rinsed them, plus they hold their own water, so you want to avoid mold. You can tie them in small bundles and hang them from the ceiling, or you can find a way to lay them out so that air gets underneath. I used a canoe frame, but you may not have one of those– instead, maybe you have a cooling rack?
  4. Be patient. It takes time to rinse the herbs, let them dry, and strip the leaves from the stems, but this is a great way to preserve herbs you got for free, or extend the life of expensive herbs you purchased from the store. If your dried herbs are strong, you can use dried herbs in place of fresh in many recipes, with not much noticeable difference in flavor. 
palmful of dried rosemary
palmful of dried rosemary
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candied meyer lemons

bowl of lemons

I ate my candied clementines straight out of the jar for weeks, and I can’t wait to dive into these candied Meyer lemons. They’re a little more tart than the clementines, but still with that delicious, sweet, vaguely vanilla-y taste. And they look so impressive and fancy in the jar, despite the purely minimal amount of effort required from you.

bowl of sliced lemons

 

jars of candied meyer lemons

Candied Meyer Lemons
Adapted from Food in Jars, via Saveur
Makes about 8 8-ounce jars

You will need:
3 lbs. Meyer lemons, sliced (remove pits as you go)
2 c. water
4 c. granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

Prepare your jars for canning: sterilize the jars and rings, and simmer the lids in a small pot of water. Also prepare your canning pot by bringing a lot of water to boil.

Combine sugar, water, and vanilla bean in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon slices and cook about 15 minutes, until lemons are softened.

Divide lemons up among your jars to within 1/2″ of the top of the jar. Wipe the lips of the jars, and add lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Let sit overnight, without disturbing. Any jars that don’t seal, refrigerate immediately and use those first.

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roasted spiced edamame

raw edamame

Roasted edamame is a little crisp on the outside, with that not-quite-burned flavor that makes us love grilled corn on the cob. The papery exterior gives way to a soft, savory explosion when you chew it. It’s seriously fun to eat. Like its starchy friend, corn, these crisp and tender beans would benefit from a squeeze of lime and a dash of chili powder or just oil and salt, so feel free to experiment with spices and other flavorings.

roasted spiced edamame

My favorite is salty-spicy cajun seasoning. I made these on a rainy Sunday when I didn’t get out of my pajamas until after 5, and that was just because I was meeting my mom for dinner.

Roasted Spiced Edamame

You will need:
1 cup edamame, shelled
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. cajun seasoning, or other flavorful seasoning

Preheat oven to 475.

Toss edamame with oil on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle with seasoning.

Roast about thirty minutes, or until edamame are blistered and tender. Serve immediately.

roasted spiced edamame

rosemary-citrus salt

I’ve been taking a break from canning. I canned and canned and canned before Christmas (and didn’t even blog half of it), so the thought of standing over the proverbial hot stove for an hour after spending another hour peeling, dicing, and otherwise prepping a small mountain of fruit sounds a little unattractive right now. But you might remember I mentioned that I am currently in possession of more dried rosemary than God. I’ve picked about a fifth of it off its branches, and that alone made three cups. All told, I will probably have 15-20 cups of dried rosemary. (Not that I’m complaining! I like rosemary. And if you know me, you probably have some rosemary-spiked treats in your future.)

food processor with orange zest, rosemary, and salt

Speaking of treats, a friend of mine recently experienced a gift-giving occasion of the bridal kind. I got her the standard kitchen-y things off her registry, but I also wanted to give her something special, something from my kitchen. She knows I can, but I don’t think she had ever tried any of my projects, and her bridal shower seemed like the perfect time. I put together a small basket of registry items, some marmalade I had stashed away from the Christmas preserving extravaganza, and this rosemary salt.

rosemary citrus salt

Guys, it’s delicious. It would be good on the rim of a cocktail glass (for the right kind of peppy, herby, adventurous cocktail), on popcorn, sprinkled on chicken or potatoes, or even on fresh veggies like cucumbers or tomatoes. I’m sort of swooning right now thinking of how exciting a little of this would be on watermelon, or on your next batch of homemade chocolate truffles. And here’s a pro secret: Homemade finishing salts are super easy and inexpensive to make! A box of kosher salt and some fresh herbs could keep you in homemade gifts for a long, long time, and all you need to shell out for is cute packaging. The Kitchn has a great post that suggests some great combinations, if you’d like to venture beyond rosemary and citrus.

jar of rosemary citrus salt

Rosemary-Citrus Salt
Adapted from Edible Austin
Makes 1/2 cup flavored salt

You will need:
2 tbsp. dried rosemary
2 tbsp. fresh orange or lemon zest
1/2 c. kosher or other coarse salt

Process all ingredients in a food processor until rosemary and citrus are chopped fine. Store in an airtight container up to 2 months.

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you-won’t-know-they’re-vegan chocolate cupcakes

About six months ago, my mom took the plunge. She went vegan.

 

vegan chocolate cupcakes

Everyone deserves to have a delicious, gooey, rich, delectable, messy, awesome chocolate cake on their birthday, even if they don’t eat butter anymore. Since she drove all the way to Austin to visit me for her birthday, I felt like a vegan baking challenge was in order. Chocolate birthday cupcakes that still tasted like “OMG”, but with no milk, no butter, no eggs.

I set a few requirements: I wanted to avoid as many specialty ingredients as possible. I wanted these to be basic pantry cupcakes, cupcakes no one (including me) ever has to stress over. I want to be able to make these without thinking when I have a party to go to and I know a vegan friend will be attending, or when Mom comes back for a visit and we feel celebratory. I wanted these to be easy. A few hours of recipe reviewing later, I found my recipe.

These cupcakes are moist, super chocolatey, dark, delicious, and definitely feel like a birthday cupcake. My sister said, “Wow, these don’t taste vegan!” My mom took some home to share with friends. I promise you: If you make these cupcakes and take them to a party, no one will know your dirty little vegan secret.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 12 cupcakes

You will need:
1 1/8 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. canola oil
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.

Whisk together all dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients.

Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, whisking until just mixed. Do not overmix. The batter will be very wet, but that’s okay.

Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (Note: My cupcakes didn’t really “dome” the way that cupcakes usually do, so I nearly overbaked them. Test them before you think they’re ready, in case you have the same problem.) Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting.

Vegan Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from About.com Dairy Free Cooking
Makes 2 cups, enough to frost 12 cupcakes
Note: The frosting was a little thin, but I think I could add more powdered sugar next time to bulk it up, or just chill it before frosting the cupcakes. It came out more like a thick ganache than something you could pipe through a pastry bag, but still fit the bill nicely.

You Will Need:
2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. dairy-free soy margarine, softened
1/4 c. plain unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla

With an electric hand mixer, beat the powdered sugar with the margarine until well mixed and thick. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth.

orange rosemary olive oil cake

I live in a rosemary factory.

D and I decided to give up the plot in our community garden. It’s sad to see it go,  but honestly, it’s been nice to not have the obligation of driving several miles each weekend to work the soil, as pleasant and rewarding as that was. Our lives are a little busy right now, something had to give, so it’s bye-bye garden.

We were able to transplant the sage, lavender, and arugula into containers outside our apartment, and since we had barely planted anything for the winter at all, nothing else was too great a loss. Except the rosemary.

palmful of dried rosemary

We had two four-foot-tall rosemary plants that were strong and gorgeous. I nearly couldn’t bear cutting them down. Instead, I cut them into 2-foot sprigs (more like branches, but whatever) and took a huge armload home with me to dry. That bushel of rosemary was painstakingly rinsed, branch by branch, and then draped inside a boat frame that hangs from the ceiling. (If you know me, then you may know that my life partner has been building a canoe… for four years.  I’m finally grateful that he hasn’t finished it.) It smelled like a pine forest for three days, and two weeks later, the rosemary was ready to harvest.

orange rosemary olive oil cake

Except, do you know how much dried rosemary comes from a bushel of branches? Out of four branches, I got two cups of dried rosemary. No one needs two cups of dried rosemary, least of all me and my 700-square-foot apartment, and I have (approximately) 300 more branches to go. Surprise! Everyone’s getting rosemary for Christmas!

I’m now on a mission to put rosemary into as many things as possible. If you’ve never thought to include rosemary in a dessert, fear not! The combination of this aromatic herb and some sharp citrus is a clear winner.

orange_rosemary_cake 032_ed

Orange Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Patent and the Pantry
Makes one 9 x 4 loaf cake

You will need:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 small navel orange
1/2 cup regular or extra-virgin olive oil (or use canola oil)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbps. dried rosemary, chopped, plus more for decoration

Preheat oven to 350. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, or grease it.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs about one minute, until frothy. Add sugar and beat another 3 minutes, until pale yellow. Add orange zest and juice and beat again for 30 seconds.

In a separate, larger bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary. Add egg mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into loaf pan and sprinkle with more rosemary, if desired. Bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer comes out with small crumbs attached.

Cool completely before serving.

orange rosemary olive oil cake