Eat Plants

There's More To Pumpkin Than Meets The Spice!
By Chef Bev Shaffer

Yes, fellow fall lovers—there’s much more to pumpkin than those overplayed pumpkin drinks!

Try cutting and steaming a fresh pie pumpkin for a change of pace (jack o’ lantern pumpkins are bred to be thinner, so are not used for cooking)…and, if gutting a pumpkin on a fall afternoon is not your thing, opt for the second recipe that uses canned pumpkin puree.

Here are two recipes destined to become favorites:




Caribbean Pumpkin Coconut Soup

Thick creamy and spicy—this soup uses the bounty of fall.

  • 2 lbs. pie pumpkin
  • 2 qts. vegetable broth
  • 2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, cleaned well and chopped
  • 2 chilies (mild or hot), diced
  • 2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bunch (4 to 6 leaves) collard greens, cut into thin strips
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

Cut pumpkin in half top to bottom and remove seeds. Cut the halves into chunks that will fit in your veggie steamer and steam them for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are very soft. (You may also steam, covered, in the microwave.)

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium soup pot. Add the leeks, chilies, ginger, garlic and salt. Cook on medium low heat for about 30 minutes. Add the collard greens and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Scoop out the pumpkin pulp, place in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Add a small amount of the broth as needed to facilitate processing. Combine the blended pumpkin with the rest of the soup. Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, thyme and allspice. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

Cook for about 5 additional minutes, until heated through and serve. Yields 6 servings.

Chef’s Notes: Allspice is a cured, unripe berry from a tropical evergreen tree; when ground, it releases aromatic notes reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Quick and easy to prepare (don’t let all the instructions fool you), this recipe can be prepared up to several days ahead of time and is delicious served with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

  • ¾ cup milk, whole or low fat
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 6 cups stale bread cubes (1/2” cubes)
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup almond liqueur such as Amaretto, optional

Heat oven to 350°F; butter a 9” square baking pan. Set aside.

Pour the milk and cream into a small saucepan and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, just before the mixture comes to a boil. Remove saucepan from the heat.

Place the eggs, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar and pumpkin puree in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the hot milk mixture and whisk to combine.

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and add the pumpkin/milk mixture, cranberries and liqueur. Stir to combine. Allow to sit, stirring occasionally, until it absorbs most of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Transfer the bread mixture to the prepared baking pan.

Make a water bath by placing the baking pan in a larger pan and place water in the larger outer pan so that it comes halfway up the side of the smaller pan. Bake the bread pudding in the water bath until it is set and golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

Carefully remove the smaller pan from the water bath and place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Serve warm. Yields 1- 9" square pudding.

Chef’s Notes: Don’t skimp on the type of bread for cubes here; I like to use a good, bakery quality sourdough or other type of artisan bread

Oh Peppers: You Sweet, Spicy, and Pungent Things!
By Chef Bev Shaffer

Did you know when cooking bell peppers you can use any color, but purple bells turn khaki when heated, so cooking them hardly justifies the premium you pay for the color?

I made that mistake once. A short pepper crop took me to the Farmer’s Market where the green bells were abundant and so reasonably priced—but I saw the purple glisten of those other peppers. Went home and halved those beautiful bells—heated the grill and with little embellishment they were nestled on the grill grid charring away.

When I opened the lid to flip them—viola! My purples were now green. Lesson learned! Now I just show them off in a multicolored bells veggie platter.

Hoping your crop is abundant, here is some pepper inspiration: one is a versatile dish with white beans and roasted peppers—so easy to make you’ll use it again and again in a variety of ways; or try some peppered peppers for a delicious side dish.


White Beans with Roasted Peppers

You can eat this bean dish cold, as a salad, or hot with pasta, polenta or rice. Don’t forget to use your fresh basil in this recipe as well.

  • 2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cooked or canned white beans, drained
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 400°F. Arrange the peppers on a baking sheet and roast them for about 30 minutes or until they are very soft and their skins are charred. Remove from the oven and put the peppers in a paper bag for about 10 minutes to make their skins easier to remove. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins using your fingers and slice the peppers into thin strips. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan; add the garlic and cook on medium low heat for about 1 minute. Add the beans, roasted peppers, basil and salt. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the beans are heated through. Remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Serves 4.

Peppered Peppers

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1” squares
  • 2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1” squares
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • Sea salt to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat; add onion, ground pepper, cumin and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft. Stir in bell peppers, and then pour in wine. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until peppers are tender crisp. Season to taste with salt. Serves 4 to 6.

You Say Tomato...
By Chef Bev Shaffer

Here’s some trivia for you: in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tomato a vegetable. (Obviously not a lot on the docket that year.) The question became a matter for the courts because of different trade regulations governing fruits and vegetables.

Hopefully your garden is overflowing with a variety of tomatoes. Remember to store any unwashed at room temperature, stem end down, until slightly soft. Refrigerate very ripe tomatoes, unwrapped, for up to 4 days.

Ready to can? Don’t forget to check with Ohio State University’s Extension Service to get the latest (and safest) methods for canning tomatoes and other garden produce. Here are two of my favorite fresh-from-the-garden tomato recipes. Enjoy.




Tomato Basil Soup

  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 4 to 5 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
  • ½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • ¾ tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot; cook, stirring often, until onion is slightly soft. Stir in tomatoes, basil leaves, sugar and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking; then reduce heat, cover and simmer until onion is very soft and flavors blend (about 15 minutes). In a blender or food processor, whirl tomato mixture (a portion at a time if needed), until smooth. Return tomato mixture to pan and add chicken broth, seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat until steaming. Makes about 5 cups.

Spinach Stuff Tomatoes

  • ¾ lb. spinach
  • 8 medium size tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
  • 2 Tbsp. dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Pick through spinach leaves, discarding stems and any yellow or wilted leaves. Plunge spinach into a large quantity of cold water to clean; lift out, drain, pat dry, and coarsely chop. Set aside. Cut off top fourth of each tomato; reserve for other uses (you could add this to the Tomato Basil Soup!). With a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out pulp to make hollow shells. Chop pulp and allow to drain in a colander. Melt butter in oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, until soft. Stir in drained tomato pulp and spinach; cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese, breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Heat broiler. Fill each tomato with spinach mixture and arrange in an ungreased baking pan; sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Broil 4” below heat until cheese is lightly browned. Makes 8 servings.

Cilantro: My Love/Hate Relationship
By Chef Bev Shaffer

Well, okay—hate is a very strong word, so maybe love/dislike would be more appropriate. But think about it—most people either love cilantro or they don’t; there’s no grey area with this versatile herb.

My mission here is to enlighten you on this wonderful herb—cilantro is the leaf, coriander is the seed. Cilantro does well in cooler weather, and once it gets hot it—like most of us—bolts. But that doesn’t mean its mission at that point is over—seeds for cilantro can be picked and stored with your spices, and it is a very attractive plant to butterflies and other pollinators.

Before it bolts, however, let’s be creative in the kitchen with two of my favorite cilantro themed recipes, a Cilantro Lime Dressing (marinade for meats or a dressing for a festive summer salad) and a Cilantro Pesto (made with pumpkin seeds). Yum!


Cilantro Lime Dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • zest of 1 lime
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon local honey
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor combine the cilantro, zest and juice of the limes and oranges, vinegar, honey and sea salt. Pulse to combine; stop and scrape sides. With machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until well combined. (Dressing may separate, so feel free to whisk well to combine just before serving.) Makes about 1 cup.

Cilantro Pesto

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ¾ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¾ cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • ¾ cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor combine the garlic and cilantro. Pulse to mince and combine; stop and scrape sides. Add lime juice, seeds and salt; pulse until seeds are finely chopped. Slow add oil and blend until combined. Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

Basil Basics and Recipes
By Chef Bev Shaffer

If you haven’t started to grow basil in your garden or on your deck, what are you waiting for? Basil is an easy plant to grow, with its only major requirements being full sun and consistent water. Its delicious flavor will make it the most useful herb in your summer kitchen.

Some Basics:

  • Plant in rich soil in full sun
  • Water, fertilize and prune plants on a regular basis
  • Don’t let the plant flower (for the best flavor)
  • Prune every four weeks (or sooner if they show signs of getting ready to flower) just above the bottom two sets of leaves

Immediately after planting, prune your basils by cutting them back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. What?! This early pruning may seem drastic, but it actually stimulates growth. Match the basil variety to its use. Basils come in all shapes and sizes, but which one you choose will depend on how you’ll use it in the kitchen.

Pesto basils: some types include ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian Pesto’, ‘Profuma di Genova’. The best option for making pesto, these varieties are aromatic, full of flavor, and vigorous growers. They have a lovely scent—a balance of citrus oil, licorice, cinnamon, spice and mint.

Lemon basils: some types include ‘Mrs. Burns’, ‘Sweet Dani’. Lemon basils are good in vinaigrettes, especially with vegetables and seafood, but they shine in beverages and desserts, too.

Lettuce leaf basils: some types include ‘Napoletano’, ‘Lettuce Leaf’, ‘Mammoth’. Characterized by huge leaves (5 to 6 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide) these varieties are perfect for sandwiches and salads. Their flavor includes notes of mint, anise and citrus.

Culinary Tip: Store fresh herbs in ice cube trays. A great way to store herbs like basil, parsley, chives and cilantro is to freeze them; quick and easy to do.

  • Pick fresh leaves off the stems, then wash and dry them
  • Get an empty ice cube tray and place as many leaves as you can into each cube slot
  • Add water, pushing the herbs down when they begin to float; place the tray in the freezer
  • Take the cubes out once they are frozen, and put them in a plastic freezer bag; they’ll keep in your freezer for up to a year
  • Use in soups, sauces or stews; just pop a few cubes into the pot and stir!

Here are a few recipes for managing an abundance of basil…



  • 4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Put the basil, pine nuts, parsley, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a food processor. With the machine on, slowly pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is very finely chopped and pasty. Season to taste with additional salt, if desired. Yields about 2/3 cup.



  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 2 lb. cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, very thinly sliced

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently to coat and then raise the heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasional and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively but not-too-vigorous simmer, until the tomatoes have been reduced to a thick, pulpy sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle on the basil. Stir to combine thoroughly. Serves 4.

Suggested serving:

  • 1 lb. cooked farfalle pasta
  • Spooned atop grilled shrimp, scallops or whitefish
  • Spread on thick slices of garlic bread
  • Want to add cheese? 5 oz. ricotta salata, cut into ¼ inch dice

Photos courtesy of Bev Shaffer

An Herb That Needs No Introduction: Rosemary
By Chef Bev Shaffer

If you know your way around the kitchen, rosemary needs no introduction. An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, you may already have a “love/hate” relationship with this culinary herb. In my experience, people that dislike (e.g. hate) rosemary have had it in dishes where the cook or chef had a heavy hand and perhaps didn’t chop it well—so it overpowered everything and you felt like you had fallen, mouth first, onto the floor of a pine forest. Not to worry—fragrant and earthy, let’s take it beyond the savory aspect and enjoy its flavor and aroma in one of my favorite uses, a Lemon Rosemary Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze.


Lemon Rosemary Cake with Fresh Lemon GlazeReprinted with permission from CAKES To Die For!, author Bev Shaffer, (Pelican Publishing Company, 2010)

This cake has such bright flavors, and rosemary helps it cross over from a simply sweet cake to a treat that would go perfectly as a ladies’ luncheon “bread” or with barbecued ribs.

Ingredients: 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary 1/3 cup light olive oil 1 cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs ¾ cup buttermilk

Lemon Glaze: ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 325° F. Grease a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, zest, and rosemary. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the oil and sugar until well blended. With mixer on medium, add the eggs, one at a time, until mixture is a pale yellow. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.

Alternately, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the sugar mixture, stirring just to blend. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 52 to 60 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

For the Glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until mixture is smooth. Spread glaze atop warm cake.

Cool completely on a wire rack. When ready to serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and carefully remove the cake. Serves 8 to 10. Plant some rosemary today—in patio pots or an herb garden—and enjoy this aromatic earthy culinary wonder.

Tasty Idea: Edible Landscaping

By Chef Bev Shaffer

Yes, your gardens can be BOTH pretty and productive, and often times the sunniest spots in our yards are the front yards. So why not mix and mingle some plants into your landscape that are functional/edible? Here are some ideas…

Herbs plants are not only easy to grow and fragrant, but they blend beautifully into your gardens. Grow several types of BASIL, and don’t skip the purple leafed varieties that are particularly decorative. FENNEL will add a touch of whimsy, height and a wispiness that will add movement to the garden.

SAGE is so easy to grow, and its mounding shape make it the perfect front-row ornamental. Add some tricolor sage as well for the pink tinges. An assortment of THYME softens the garden, and many of the low growing varieties like a lemon thyme work well in front of taller basil plants.


LAVENDER and NASTURTIUM add sensory delight to the garden. Tuck a clump or two of LEMONGRASS into your edible landscape and grow a touch of the tropics. (Chef’s Note from Bev: Nasturtium flowers add beautiful color a peppery flavor to your greens salads.)

Pot a variety of MINT and CHIVES to intersperse throughout, keeping them from “taking over”. ARUGULA and KALE make a stunning border in mixed planters. Keep the greens evenly moist and sow seeds a week or so apart so you have a succession of fresh greens.

Train some POLE BEANS up a decorative trellis, tower or tepee-shaped structure – they make beautiful vertical accents. And don’t skip the BUSH BEANS, to add dimension and for ease of planting/picking.

Put on those boots and dig in to the hottest gardening trend. You’ll soon become a Foodscape aficionado.

A Great Time to Use Those Windowsill Herbs
By Chef Bev Shaffer

While you’re waiting for that all out blitz of outdoor planting, let’s celebrate those windowsill herbs that provided some much needed greenery during the drab winter months.

(I know, I know—one or two 50°F days and you’re ready to go—but Mother Nature will surely remind us with some “you shouldn’t have planted those yet” frost before end-of-May that she is in charge!)

Add that sprig of greenery and familiar foods take on new character. Fresh herbs contribute pleasing aromas and flavors—from subtle to pungent—and using them creatively is one of the keys to good cooking. Pinch a few sprigs and rinse herbs under cold running water, then shake off excess moisture and pat lightly with a paper towel or clean dishtowel before using.  


 How about this?

Fresh Herb Mayonnaise

To 1 cup of your favorite mayonnaise, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice and about 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate at least until next day or for up to 1 month. That turkey sandwich or your favorite mayo based potato salad will never be the same!

Need a dab of herbed butter for your broiled fish, baked potato or grilled steak? Easy.

Whipped Herb Butter

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup room temperature butter, salted or unsalted, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and about 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs with a hand held mixer, stopping and scraping the bowl and beaters often, until well blended. Add a twist of freshly ground pepper, too.

There now. Go back to shopping at Uncle John’s Plant Farm store and greenhouse for tools, garden gloves, potting supplies and seed packets. Plan your garden. Soon—very soon!


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