July 2009

Cooking With Marvelous Mint

Mint Today, I am taking part in Summer Fest.

Margaret Roach (awaytogarden blog) created this blogging project as a way to share “fresh-from-the-garden” recipes and tips. This week’s theme is HERBS and since I have been writing about herbal cooking and gardening for over 22 years, I just HAD to participate! This is my contribution on “Cooking with Mint”.

Mint is one of those unappreciated, underutilized herbs in the kitchen. Most people only think of it as an ingredient in chocolate recipes or as a garnish in ice tea. But mint is one of the few herbs that works exceptionally well in both savory and sweet dishes. It combines well with stronger herbs like rosemary and cooling herbs like lemon balm, cilantro and parsley.

Did you know that there are literally hundreds of different varieties of mint? It all started with about 20 species of mint that crossed and re-crossed until literally hundreds of different mints were created. Everything from apple mint to orange mint can be found at specialty nurseries around the country.

But of all the different mint varieties out there, spearmint and peppermint are still the most widely known and the most popular in the kitchen. Spearmint is so common that it is usually just labeled “mint” or “the best mint” by nurseries.  Cross breeding has created many different spearmint leaf shapes, but you can still determine if you have spearmint by the fragrance. It is cooling without the menthol overtones of peppermint. If however, the mint you find smells like a candy cane, it is peppermint.

Yes, mint is the perfect ice tea garnish and yes, you can make a killer hot tea with its leaves. But try making a limeade-mint drink this summer or add a little mint to your next fruit smoothie and you will see that mint can bump up the flavor a notch. It adds a coolness that is much needed when the weather warms up.

MintBlueberries DESSERTS
Mints combines well with just about all fruit desserts. Try mint with fruit salad, strawberry shortcake, sorbet, fruit parfaits or cobbler. You are probably already familiar with how well mint combines with chocolate. To change a chocolate recipe to chocolate-mint, just flavor the liquid of the recipe (milk, cream, water, etc.) with fresh mint leaves. This is best done by heating the liquid, adding fresh mint, covering and letting it set for ten to thirty minutes. Then strain out the mint and use the liquid in the recipe.

Try mint with carrots, peas, corn or new potatoes. I kid you not. It works! You can also add some mint to rice or couscous for a little variety in your side dishes. Mint also gives a nice contrast and balance to spicy ingredients like jalapeños. Add a pinch of mint to your next spicy meal and you will see what I mean.

As for main dishes, mint is most closely associated with lamb and pork recipes. But it can be used on chicken or beef as well, especially if combined with something sweet (like citrus) and something spicy (like hot peppers).

If you are interested in experimenting with mint, look to Mediterranean or Indian cuisine for some more delicious combinations. In the meantime, try some of the recipes below this summer.

MintCorn Minted Corn on the Cob
This is a fast, simple recipe for when you are in a hurry to get the dinner on the table. It is quick, but tastes very delicious.

6 ears of corn on the cob
butter or margarine
18 sprigs of fresh mint
plastic wrap

Shuck and rinse the corn. Pat dry. Generously butter and carefully place 3 mint sprigs lengthwise on each ear of corn. Wrap ears individually in plastic wrap and fold down the ends so that it is completely sealed. (The plastic wrap will hold the herbs in place.) You do not need to poke a hole for venting. It is actually faster if it is kept sealed and steams the corn inside. Microwave 3-4 ears at a time for 8-12 minutes on high or until corn is tender when pierced with a fork. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings. This recipe is also delicious with other herbs substituted for the mint such as thyme, rosemary or sage.

MintLimeade Spearmint Limeade
Limeade can be a nice change from the standard lemonade of summer, but if you prefer, you may substitute lemons in this recipe. If you do, you may need to also adjust the sugar to your taste.

½ cup fresh spearmint leaves
6 cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups fresh squeezed lime juice
½ cup lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine spearmint leaves with just two cups of the water. Heat to boiling, turn of heat and cover. Let mixture sit 20 minutes. Strain out and discard mint. Add sugar to the mint water and heat until sugar is dissolved (about two minutes). In a large pitcher, combine mint water, remaining four cups water, lime juice and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Chill and serve over ice.

Summer Punch
This recipe is great for summer parties and even the kids will like it. It calls for peppermint, but you can use any mint in the garden.

1 ½ cups water
1 cup fresh peppermint leaves
12 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
2 liters lemon-lime carbonated beverage
extra mint sprigs for garnish

In a small saucepan, combine water and mint. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover. Set aside for 30 minutes, and then strain into a large pitcher. Discard mint. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well. Chill and serve over ice with fresh mint sprigs in each glass.

For more herbal recipes go here:

Lavender Biscotti

Lemon Balm

Cilantro and Coriander are the same plant!

Lemon Verbena Syrup


Growing Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena Fruit Punch



Defy Gravity With A Flower Tower


My friend Helen discovered this fun little garden project and it worked perfectly in her garden. It is a tower of clay pots that seem to defy gravity.

The trick?

A long piece of rebar hammered into the ground.


(Rebar rods are those steel reinforcing rods used in construction. You can find them in the cement section of the home improvement centers.)

The other day, Helen arrived on my doorstep with a stack of pots and my own piece of rebar so that I could try it too. That is a true gardening friend!

This is how it is done…

Step one:

Hammer a 6 foot rebar into the ground (about 1.5-2 feet down). Then take one clay pot and run it over the re-bar through the drain hole so that it sits on the ground flat. That is your only straight pot. (The next pot will be placed at an angle.)


Step two:

Fill the bottom pot with soil so that the next pot has something to sit on. Then run the next pot down the bar and set it at an angle.


Step three:

Continue adding pots until you get to the top.

Step four:

Add soil and plants. Done!

I think it will look great when it fills in. And just think of the possibilities! I planted herbs and flowers, but wouldn’t this look great with strawberries or ivy or…Well, you get the idea.


Thanks Helen for this great idea!


Miniature Terrariums

Remember my post on the tabletop “air plant” terrarium a few weeks ago?

MiniTerrariums Well, check out these miniature terrariums created by Amy Whitman, a horticulturist at Gardener’s Supply Company. She writes about these terrariums on the company’s gardening blog.

(You didn’t know that one of the major gardening catalogs had a blog? Oh yes! Many gardening companies are jumping into the blog-sphere these days.)

Amy created these unique mini-gardens in an assortment of glass containers as holiday gifts for her co-workers last year. She found the assorted glasses at a local thrift store and filled them with gravel, soil and tiny plants.

The blog post gives full instructions on creating these charming mini-gardens. The only thing I would do differently is to use a spoonful of charcoal instead of gravel. Charcoal will keep any standing water smelling sweet…just in case someone over waters.

I saw similar miniature terrariums at the San Fransisco Flower and Garden Show this year.


Of course these terrariums do not last forever. Depending upon what you grow, the plants can quickly outgrow the container. Succulents and mosses will probably last the longest.


But what a fun way to spruce up a dull office desk or a boring corner of your kitchen!


HighAltitudeGarden3wtmk I missed July’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day because I was enjoying a week long trip in Colorado visiting my brother and sister-in-law. They have a horse ranch and while visiting, my entire family got to experience “ranch life” up close and personal. It was incredible.

But what is also incredible is the challenge of growing a garden at 8,000 feet in the beautiful Colorado mountains. For my belated Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day post, I am going to show you what my sister-in-law is growing in her completely organic, high-altitude garden right now.

The red flower above is Mexican Hat Flower.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to growing a garden at high altitude. You have a much shorter growing season which means you have to plant at the exact right moment or you miss your window of opportunity. And of course, there are a few things that just don’t work out in a short season. But those plants that get growing right away, look spectacular!!!


One advantage to high-altitude gardening is that you usually have fewer pests and disease than those of us at lower elevations. The air is also dry, so you don’t have the mildew and rot associated with humid climates. Once you get your garden planted, your biggest challenges are usually watering and the local deer population.

Here we have bachelor buttons and daisies…


Check out those hollyhocks coming up behind the latter!


And here is a great idea for creating a bird bath…


Most herbs do especially well at high altitude…


If you are interested in learning more about High Altitude Gardening, check out THIS informative website, this BLOG by a woman in Park City, Utah and THIS article from Organic Gardening Magazine. One source for seeds/plants is High Country Gardens.

I garden at sea level with an ocean breeze causing all kind of mildew problems. It is so interesting to see the same plants I struggle to grow doing so well at high-altitude without a trace of mildew. It was almost as humbling as trying to walk up a tiny hill without getting winded and collapsing in a heap. My sea level lungs just didn’t cut it too well at 8,000 feet!



I have an Anna Apple tree growing espalier style against my west fence in my herb garden. My boys and I harvested several bags of apples from this little tree this week.


Even though it is grown flat against the fence, I get tons of apples from this tree each year. That is the beauty of espalier.


After making an apple pie or two,I am going to make homemade applesauce!

How do you make applesauce you ask????

Well, I peel, core and slice the apples and place them in a crock pot with a little cinnamon and allspice. Then I let them cook for about 6 hours. These Anna apples are very sweet, so no sugar is needed!

Easy Peasy! YUM!


I’ve stumbled upon a few fun DIY projects on the internet this week…Check these out!


HERE is a post on how to build your own chicken coop with items from the IKEA store. (From UrbanChickens.net)

And if you were thinking about building a tomato tower (who wouldn’t, you ask?)


there are instructions on how to do just that over at OrganicGardening.com.

Did you ever consider growing things in a bottle?


HERE is a great website called BottleBiology.org that teaches kids all kinds of garden science and investigations using recycled bottles.

Fun stuff!


I am absolutely loving this Italian Summer Squash, also known as “Trombetta di Albenga


I planted it from seeds I bought from Renee’s Gardens.


The seed pack says that it is an Italian heirloom squash with a delicate taste similar to a “nutty artichoke”. Well, we finally harvested and it definitely has a delicious, mild taste. The nutty artichoke flavor? Well, I think it is a bit of a stretch to call it that…but I guess I can taste a bit of artichoke when I close my eyes and concentrate on the flavor. Although, I was hoping for a stronger artichoke flavor, I still liked it. The flavor is very light making it a nice addition to a squash/veggie mix in any recipe.

But the reason I REALLY LOVE this squash. It is so easy to grow and it grows UP! It looks lovely on a wall or fence making it perfect for small space gardening.


It is a vigorous climber and covered my six-foot wall trellis in no time. The fruit is seedless and firm and grills on the BBQ wonderfully.

Will I grow this again? YOU BET!