Herb Hints for Summer 2013: Part 1

herb hints part one june 3 2013

Herb Hints for Summer 2013: Part 1

As summer literally begins to heat up later this month in North America, many plants will be bursting with bountiful harvests. I’m happy to share with you some hints and fun information for cultivating specifically herb plants that I’ve gathered through personal experience and various research sources to assist you whether you have an in-ground garden, a raised-bed planter or simply a pot or two on your kitchen windowsill. In this particular post I will focus on three herbs that I’ve kept over the years most consistently for culinary uses.

Basil: Who isn’t acquainted with the burst of flavor and scent that basil affords? My first memory of this herb was as a little girl in my great-grandfather’s garden south of Athens, Greece when he cut some for me to smell and take to the kitchen for our meal. The large-leafed varieties produce great foliage for pasta sauces and fresh salads. Basil is also a great companion plant for tomatoes. Lemon basil and sweet basil are my personal favorites for usage in home cooking and herbal bouquets as gifts for loved ones. “The name “basil” is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means “royal,” reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred.” http://www.whfoods.com

Mint: O’Brien’s in New Orleans serves a strong concoction called the Mint Julep, a mix of bourbon whiskey and crushed mint in a sugary punch that impressed my palate and sense of fun. Later I would have a Mohito in a South Florida restaurant that inspired me to keep this herb in my garden rotation permanently. It turns out I can also use mint to make fresh hot tea that works as a non-alcoholic calming force on its own. A common favorite for garnish in iced teas, lemonade or cocktails—this plant (and its many varieties) is very aggressive and spreads quickly in its root system. This can be great if you are into propagation (just stick a cutting in water and watch roots grow over time) but if not then it is advisable to keep it in a container. As a side note, mint is also a natural repellant for flies and ants.

Parsley:  This herb is readily available for purchase at grocery stores in the produce department and I recommend you just buy the plant since growing from parsley from seed is no easy feat–I just achieved success at starting parsley from seed after over 5 years of trying. “Cut up flat-leaf parsley to use in soups and stews. Add parsley to warm foods just before serving so the herb maintains its flavor and bright green color.” (from the premier issue of Herb Gardening through http://www.BHG.com ) Personally I love having fresh parsley around for fresh visual garnish on dishes presented to your family and friends at the dinner table. It’s been known for centuries as a breath freshener after dinner when you nibble on it and in old folklore a robust parsley plant at a residence represented a strong woman of the house inside.


It turns out that you can store these herbs either by drying them (I use a dehydrator but there are methods for drying them appropriately if you research) or freezing them. I haven’t tried it but “Herb Gardening” magazine suggests: “Grind and freeze-wash and pat dry large-leafed herbs such as basil and parsley. In a food processor, combine each herb with oil and grind into a paste. Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays to use later in soups, stews and sauces.”

Recipe to Boot: From June 2013 Good Housekeeping magazine, http://www.goodhousekeeping.com
30 minutes or less-Weeknight Easy

Minted Chicken with Asparagus
Note: Makes 4 main dish servings

• 1 lime
• 1 ½ cup packed fresh mint leaves
• 1 clove garlic
• 2 tsp brown sugar
• ½ ground coriander
• 3 tbsp canola oil (I believe any oil you choose is fine)
• 1 ¼ lbs thin chicken cutlets
• 1 bunch thin asparagus trimmed
• 8 cups mixed baby greens

1. Prepare outdoor grill for covered direct grilling on medium.
2. From lime, grate ½ tsp peel and squeeze 2 tbsp juice.
3. In food processor, pulse mint, grated lime peel, garlic, sugar, coriander and 2 tsp oil until smooth, occasionally scraping down side of bowl then transfer to small bowl.
4. Rub chicken with 2 tbsp mint mixture; sprinkle with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper. Grill, covered, 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through, turning over once.
5. Meanwhile, toss asparagus with 1 tsp oil; sprinkle with 1/8 tsp salt. Grill, covered, 5-6 min, turning occasionally. Grill bread 1-2 minutes per side.
6. To bowl with reserved mint mixture, add lime juice, remaining 2 tbsp oil and ¼ tsp salt, whisking to combine. Thinly slice chicken. Divide greens among 4 serving plates; top with chicken and asparagus. Drizzle with mint dressing and serve with grilled bread.

Happy Herbing! 

Stay tuned for Herb Hints for Summer 2013: Part 2,

Additional Sources: “The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs- 26 Herbs Everyone Should Grow and Enjoy” by Charles W.G. Smith, Storey Publishing

Recipes to Share: Florida Orange Rice

florida orange rice May 2013

Florida Orange Rice

Note: A special thanks to  “Florida Citrus Treasure Cookbook-A Collection of Heritage Treasures”, a great University of Florida IFAS Extension book that contains a collection of recipes handed down by UF Extension employees and their friends.

3 tablespoons butter, margarine or olive oil

1 cup uncooked rice

2/3 diced celery with leaves

1/8 thyme (dried is fine)

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 tablespoons slivered orange rind

1  1/2 cups water

1  1/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup orange juice

Melt butter (margarine or heat oil) in heavy saucepan. Add celery and onion; cook until onion is tender, but not brown. Add water, orange juice, rind, salt and thyme.  Bring to a boil; add rice slowly. Cover; reduce heat and cook at a low heat for 25 minutes.

My notes: I found this to be a delicious side dish to accompany citrus broiled lamb with brown sugar glaze and steamed artichokes.  Wonderful summer rice and it has room for experimentation, garnish with fresh parsley, cilantro and orange slices!



florida orange rice with meal May 2013

Recipes to Share: Florida Fresh Salsa and Fun Drinks for Kids (and adults too!)

Salsa and Tropical Drinks for kids

Recipes to Share: Florida Fresh Salsa and Fun Drinks for Kids (and adults too!)

Note: As I’d like to start sharing more recipes on my blog here at http://www.ceoofthehome.net, I invite readers to share their ideas too if you have made similar recipe and want to add or offer more ideas through comments–happy meal-making!

The summer heat for Floridians makes fresh, cool produce an appealing choice for snacks and meals–especially for our children who can get easily overheated after playing outside during days that easily see air temperatures in the 80s-90s and humidity levels consistently over 70%. Here’s a fun pairing of fresh options for a light lunch, in-between snack or anything else.

Florida Fresh Salsa

4-6 ripe tomatoes (any kind or color you prefer–except green of course, those are generally for frying!)

1 sweet onion (I prefer sweets for milder flavor for children, purple are good too)

1 jalapeno (banana pepper or cubanelle can be substituted for those sensitive to spicy)

1/4 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon or lime (or both and adjust amount to taste)

1/2 cup of cut fresh cilantro

Dice tomatoes, onions and pepper in a bowl, drizzle juice on top and mix cilantro in. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, I personally love either Garden of Eating organic blue corn chips, Late July or Florida Gourmet Chips found at many of our south Florida produce stands. Note to Parents: it is advisable to serve your young children the salsa by placing it on top of each chip arranged on a plate. Tostitos brand has the Scoop chips that are perfect for little ones as well.

Non-alcoholic Tropical Drink

Crushed ice – or any ice

Kennesaw’s lemonade (or fresh lemon juice or other lemonade)

Florida orange juice

Spritzy or sparkling water

citrus wedges (lemon, lime, orange…)

colored sugar (in photo above it’s red)

This is a refreshing drink that can be manifested in so many different ways–mix the above ingredients together as you see fit in whatever fun cups you have and straws are always a hit for little ones. Garnish with wedges and top the drink with colored sugar. I’ve even used a little splash of Pom juice to help the color for visual enjoyment.



Got Greek Yogurt?


from “Greek Mama Tips: An Indefinite Series by RSVB”

The Soupy Past

As a child I only ate Greek yogurt when my mother took us to her homeland or if some Greek yiayia (grandmother) had shared some of her homemade batch. I remember thinking it was like a soft but thick ice cream and I could never get enough of it. As kids my siblings and I never ate the runny sort of yogurt brands like Dannon or other yogurts on the market—Yoplait was the only one my mom would ever keep in the fridge and it was a poor substitute for that creamy paradise found on the palette by the Greek brands like Fage.

The Solid Present

I’ve been overjoyed over the past decade to notice how Greek yogurt has become popular in the American foodie mainstream. We cannot hear or read enough reports about how beneficial this yogurt is and most high-end restaurants espouse the use of it in their eclectic and unique culinary creations. Even Costco now carries both Fage in bulk as well as the rival brand Chobani for their wholesale member customers.

Practical Greek Yogurt Uses

As a wife, mother and homemaker at heart that feeds at least 7 mouths daily for dinner, I’d like to share some uses for plain Greek yogurt. My mainstay brand is Fage. If it’s not available then Cabot or Stonyfield’s Greek yogurt (formerly Oikos) is a palatable fallback. At Whole Foods there is an Icelandic thick yogurt available that is also favorable that’s called Siggi’s skyr yogurt.

Macaroni and Cheese:

• Whether you make your own cheesy mac or use an instant box with the cheese powder, I’ve personally found that substituting plain Greek yogurt instead of milk adds a delightful tang to the flavor and the creaminess of the pasta results in a yummy and well-received taste buds affair.

Mashed Potatoes:

• Substitute Greek yogurt in place of milk for either instant or from-scratch mashed potatoes. Again, a great complement to the starch of the potatoes and the texture is wonderful.

Baked Potatoes:

• Instead of offering sour cream as a side, take some Greek yogurt and gently whip it in a bowl with a soup—for garnish and flavor, you can snip some fresh dill, mint, basil or parsley. I personally favor fresh cut dill.


• Most people know that this is a great way to spruce up your fruit smoothie instead of milk—I have found it’s best paired with strawberries and other berries in general. Banana is not a great mix with the yogurt–but that’s my humble opinion, it may be your favorite!

Frozen Yogurt Recipes:

• Use Greek yogurt in any recipes that call for strained yogurt unless they specifically say not to (and who in their right mind would?).


• Except for when I’m serving an Asian-inspired stir-fry, I bring Greek yogurt to the table as an accessory for rice dishes. It is a great complement to rice in general and it can either be served plain or with desired fresh-cut herbs.


• As with rice, the Greek yogurt can be set at the table for diners to have the choice as to whether they want it with their couscous.


• Yes, there are bread recipes that call for yogurt—there is a bread machine one that I love, use at least once a week and am happy to share, for 1.5 lb loaf and basic cycle setting (from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger):
Ingredients: ¾ cup water, 1 cup whole milk yogurt (use Greek yogurt, even 0% fat does great), 3 ½ cups bread flour, 1 tablespoon gluten, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons SAF or 2 ½ teaspoons bread machine yeast –place all in pan according to your bread machine’s instructions. Just check the dough after first kneading cycle to make sure it is soft enough (adding water may be necessary).

Homemade Parfait:

• My offspring have this almost on a regular basis as their 2nd breakfast: I take either frozen or fresh fruit (usually berries) as the bottom layer, I take the juices from the fruit and usually a teaspoon or so of either maple syrup or honey and mix it with about a cup or more of plain Greek yogurt (to taste as to how sweet or not you want) as the middle layer, then on top I usually put either more fruit, granola, oats (with flax seed or any other good additive), or raisin, nuts and as a treat maybe some cake sprinkles for fun—Opa! Greek parfait!

Banana Breads and Muffins:
• Since my college days with roommates that loved baking, I’ve experimented with yogurt as an additive in these batters and have found it to be a nice element akin to the “pudding-in-the-mix” cake mixes.

• I have Bob’s Red Mill to thank for the following recipe that first opened my eyes to the use of Greek yogurt in a pancake batter:
Moist Yogurt Pancakes with Blueberries: 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, ½ plain yogurt: sift together dry ingredients. Combine separately the egg, milk, yogurt and whisk. Pour liquid into flour mixture and stir until just blended. Fry on hot, greased griddle turning once. Option: fold in frozen, drained, canned or fresh blueberries or drop them into pancakes immediately after pouring on griddle. Serves: 2-3

Yiasou Until Next Time:

I hope these tried, tested and true tips are of use for you and your homestead. Looking forward to sharing more Greek mama tips in the future—yiasou!

R.V.Saridakis Bean

1997-Siblings in Greece*my siblings and I taking the Grecian plunge…

Who is Salt?

Perhaps it’s best that one of the action flicks of the summer 2010 would be entitled “Salt”.  Although the film starring Angelina Jolie has little to nothing to do with nutrition, the connotation is valid as the concerns over sodium in our American diet has the recurring headline theme in many media pieces including today’s Palm Beach Post article in the Accent section “Is Salt At Fault”.  You can find Ms. Staci Sturrock’s report online at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/why-salt-in-your-diet-could-be-the-783042.html

It was probably about five years ago that I really started to pay attention to the salt buzz.  I admit I scoffed at the idea of cutting down my salt intake as I am a professed lover of salty things divine such as Greek feta, Kalamata olives, other tangy cheeses, chips and the list goes on.  

Being a busy twenty-something with nothing but career-climbing and a young husband in mind, I figured that we were healthy and didn’t need to worry about salt unless we were diagnosed with something that prescribed omission of the condiment.  How very ignorant I was, the proverbial blissful existence was what I was leading.

It wasn’t until we had family that was facing health issues that demanded attention, including cutting the salt, that we finally started to examine the idea more closely.  If you get to read Ms. Sturrock’s piece, you may learn for the first time that many of our processed foods already include an incredible amount of salt and you may not recognize it in the ingredients listed.

My daily dinner menu for my family now focuses on trying to put together meals that come from the freshest possible items.  By cutting out the processed foods I have more control over just how much seasoning is used, including salt.  In the process I’ve learned some fun tricks, like how lemon or lime can help season certain vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, thus reducing the reliance on salt.

Ms. Sturrock’s article does a good job of stating statistics sourced from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as polling from health specialists.  She reports that the FDA is “considering a plan to place restrictions on the amount of salt that manufacturers are allowed to add to processed foods.”  Toward the end of Ms. Sturrock’s piece, Dr. Andy Larson of South Florida’s JFK Medical Center brings up another valid concern about our diet saying ” ‘are we sure that we want to single out salt when the real problem is the junk calories in the food — the processed flours and unnecessary vegetable oils that have the calories.?’ ”

My one political comment concerning Ms. Sturrock’s report would be that I’m not so sure that I support government mandates on what food producers put out on the consumer market.  As a proponent of personal responsibility, I truly believe if Americans en masse start shopping for fresher or low-sodium alternatives, companies will take notice and react accordingly to supply the demand of the consumers.  More government intervention means more tax dollars out the door and so I think we are adults that can be responsible for the choice of getting the white-caked french fries or finding another choice of potato preparation.

My husband and I have noticed how the overall reduction of salt in our diet has benefited us health-wise.  Of course we’re not perfect and there are times that we probably far exceed the daily recommended 2300 mg (a teaspoon size) of sodium–especially when eating out at a restaurant or the ever-forbidden fast-food joint such as McDonald’s (you know that’s not fairy dust on the fries).

It turns out that if you can try to weed out processed foods in your daily diet, you’ll end up tackling other nutrition pitfalls.  I’m not suggesting you go for the “raw diet” that has become quite the fad in some circles, but there are ways you can incorporate more simple ingredients.  For example, when you make pasta dinners, why not reach for a can or jar of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce sans salt and then add your own Italian flare: it can be fresh or dried herbs of your own choice and perhaps just a pinch of sea salt and sugar, voila spaghetti sauce a la your creation!

Who is Salt? I still want to watch the Jolie movie, hopefully the subliminal effect of its title will help us remember to pay a little more mind to sodium’s place in our diets so that we don’t have to halt the salt completely when we hit our sixties or seventies.

Note: For those already above the aforementioned age-group, I hope you’re mitigating your diet as needed, for more information you can check our government’s guidelines: www.fda.gov


When All is Crazy: Just Bake!

I am having one of those weeks where you’re constantly running behind on everything, every day.  You know the kind where Monday starts and your mind is still stuck on third gear on the past Saturday afternoon.

Therefore, I found myself yesterday morning with my son T.A. on the stepstool beside me in the kitchen as I threw several ingredients together to make a loaf and half dozen muffins of banana nut bread.

As we all have these crazy times, I wanted to share this wonderfully simple and tasty recipe with you all and offer some notes on how I’ve adapted it to my family’s specific tastes and such.

The main recipe is from a cookbook compilation called “Mountain Morsels” put together by the Ladies Night Circle of the First United Methodist Church in Ellijay, Georgia.  I found it after raiding through my family’s cookbook collection one day when I had ripening bananas and needed a quick little recipe ASAP.


  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Mash bananas in a bowl.  Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together. Add to bananas.  (Add eggs.) If using nuts, add now. Stir well. Put in a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees.  By Minnie Waters

My notes:  This recipe is truly simple, so much so that it doesn’t give a time for how long you should leave your bread in the oven at 350 degrees.  On average my banana bread loaf will take 35-45 minutes or so.  If you decide to pour  your batter into muffin cups, it will take a shorter amount of time, like 20 min or so…my best test method is to pluck out a muffin and subsequently slice it in half and if it looks done I proceed to eat it!

As for the ingredients list in this recipe, let me offer my suggestions for substitutions or variations if you will:

  • Instead of 2 cups of plain flour, I like to use 1 cup of unbleached flour and 1 cup of whole wheat or wheat pastry flour to beef it up a bit.
  • Instead of 3/4 cups of sugar, I like to use about a half cup of honey or 1/4 cup of agave nectar.  I have yet to try Stevia, but I grow that particular plant/herb now so I’ll get back to you in future posts.
  • For the nuts category, I like to use crushed up pecans as they lend a sweeter flavor than walnuts, almonds are fine if you have no other nuts available–of course nuts are OPTIONAL.
  • Not mentioned in Ms. Waters’ recipe is my penchant for tossing a dash of ground cinnamon and cloves in my banana bread, it’s a spice combination that goes well with these flavors and if you like them in general you can have at it.
  • As a topping for ascetics, you can always sprinkle a combination of ground nuts and spices on the top of your bread before you put it in the oven or simple sprinkle some rolled oats on top.  This makes for a great presentation if you’re giving the loaf as a gift or for your coworkers feeding trough station in the office.

I hope your week is going as smooth as possible and if you do find yourself racing just to keep up with the pace of the workload of your daily routines, just remember that you can always just bake and at least enjoy a simple but delicious treat of choice that will help distract you from that unfinished “to-do” list.