Pot to Plate

Tired of reading labels and wondering what they really mean by "natural flavors"?

If you're like us, you're looking for ways to reduce the unknown chemicals you're feeding yourself and your family. Cooking with fresh herbs and vegetables can mean you'll finally learn what combinations of real identifiable "natural flavors" are on your plate. As an added bonus, you can start reducing the amounts of salt, sugar, and fat in your recipes. Here at Uncle John's, we are committed to bringing you plants that really are ready to go from the pot, right to your plate.

Within these pages, we will pass along helpful information for growing and using your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, all from local chefs, plant enthusiasts, and yours truly. Be sure to check back often, as we add new articles featuring the latest tips and tricks on home harvest techniques, kitchen prep, and more!

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 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 a recipe that uses canned pumpkin puree.

See the Recipes page for two pumpkin recipes that are destined to become favorites!

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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 (see on the Recipes page).

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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!

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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 - find two pepper inspirations on the Recipe page: 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!

 

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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. Find two of my favorite fresh tomato recipes on the Recipes page.

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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). These can both be found on the Recipes page. Yum!

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 Basil Basics
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!

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Cooking With Fresh Herbs potted herbs.jpg

Selection: Choose herbs that look fresh and clean with no discoloration or damage. The goal is to protect the natural oils that are responsible for giving herbs their flavors and aromas. Anything that prematurely crushes the herb leaves is going to reduce the oils.

Storage: Wash the herbs in cool (not cold) water right before you're ready to use them. Pat them dry with paper towels. For storage up to a week, treat them like flowers: trim off the ends of the stems on the diagonal. Then arrange in a vase or glass in an inch of water. Loosely cover with a plastic bag to keep clean but allow for air circulation. 

General Guidelines for Cooking with Fresh Herbs:

1. Dried herbs are stronger than fresh. Powdered herbs are stronger than crumbled. Use this formula for substituting fresh herbs in recipes: 1/4 teaspo2. Everyone has a different opinion so experiment with small amounts and see what you like.

3. Generally, it's not good to mix two very strong herbs together. However, one strong and other milder flavors tend to complement both the stronger herb and the food.

4. The weaker the flavor of the main staple item, the lower the level of added seasoning required to create a pleasing balance of tastes

5. Fresh herb flavors are lost by extended cooking. Add herbs to stews or soups about 45 minutes before completing the cooking. For cold foods such as dips, cheese, vegetables, and dressings, add herbs the night before or at least several hours before serving.

6. To learn more about how each herb tastes, try mixing one with margarine or butter and let it sit for at least an hour. Then spread on a plain cracker.

 chives.jpg

Fresh Herb Uses:
Anise: Chicken, pork, fish, stews, beverages, stewed fruit. Seeds in baked goods.

Basil: Tomatoes and tomato dishes, vinegars, rice, eggs, meats, duck, salads, vegetables.

Chives: Salads, stews, appetizers, vegetables, butter, yogurt, and sour cream sauces.

Dill: Fish and fish sauces, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, breads, beets, cucumbers, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, salads.

Fennel: Tomato dishes, eggs, fish, marinades for meats, carrots, pickles, breads and baked goods.

Marjoram: Stews, soups, meats, tomato dishes, vegetables, eggs, breads, French dressing.

Mint: Salads, lemonade, tea, potatoes, scallops, sauces and jelly, sherbet, lamb, fruit.

Oregano: Italian tomato sauces, barbecue sauce, soups, eggs, cheese, pork, vegetables, salad dressings.

Parsley: Tomato sauces, fish, meats and poultry, soups, stews, vegetables.

Rosemary: Lamb, pork, vegetables, chowders, cheese.

Sage: Fish, meat, poultry stuffing, chowders, soups, tomatoes.

Savory: Pork, chowders, stews, fish, eggs, salads, beans, biscuits.

Tarragon (French): Eggs, yogurt and sour cream dishes, meat, asparagus, beans, cucumbers.

Thyme (Lemon or English): Stews, clam chowder, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, stuffings, bread, biscuits, lima beans, broccoli, onions.

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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.  

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