Chef Sandra is in a Pickle!

I have been growing pickling cucumbers for many years and make a mean bread and butter pickle – recipe courtesy of my mom. I also like to make dill spears, and use my cucumbers in relishes too. Cucumbers are great for pickling, tossing in salads, or just eating straight off the vine. Of course to make a good pickle, you have to first start by using fresh firm pickling cucumbers. And you MUST use pickling cucumbers for pickles and not salad or “slicing cucumbers”. You cannot make pickles using slicing cucumbers.  If you are fortunate to live near a farmer’s market, that is always a good option, but look for local farmers and ask when the cucumbers were picked.

Cucumbers like warm, humid weather; loose, organic soil; and plenty of sunlight. They grow well in most regions of the United States and do especially well in the South which is why I have had such good success here in Texas. These photos were from my spring garden earlier this year.

How to Plant Cucumbers

Cucumbers may be planted in hills or rows about 1 inch deep and thinned as needed. Since cucumbers are a vine crop, they usually require a lot of space. In large gardens, cucumber vines may spread throughout rows; within smaller gardens, cucumbers may be trained for climbing on a fence or trellis. Training cucumbers on a fence or trellis will reduce space and lift the fruit off the soil. This method also can provide your garden with a neater appearance. The bush or compact varieties work well for growing in small spaces or even in containers, although I recommend a lot more space.

Purchasing Cucumber Seeds Locally

Cucumber seeds are plentiful from any garden center or nursery, or places like Home Depot, Loews, Walmart, and some hardware stores. I like Calloway’s Nursery http://www.calloways.com (great resource if you live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area to locate the Calloway’s near you. Or you can do a search for a garden center in your area.   Like any good garden center, Calloway’s always has a garden expert available to answer your gardening questions. And they also offer free weekly workshops and if you join the garden club, you get regular updates on weekly sales, workshops, etc.

Purchasing Organic Cucumber Seeds Online

I now use organic seeds. My sister Agnes and my Niece Kelli (and her son Alex also love to garden), and we have been sharing organic seeds that we purchase online. It takes only a few seeds for a huge yield, especially with things like squash!! Squash will totally take over your garden if you are not careful so don’t use many seeds. My basil, oregano and cilantro have all seeded, and I was able to save seeds from each of them for planting next Spring. And if you should purchase an organic vegetable like butternut squash for example, you can remove the seeds before you roast your squash, dry the seeds and then replant them in your garden at a later date. Be on the lookout for a blog about Butternut squash!!

Here are a couple of resources for purchasing organic cucumber seeds, including pickling cucumbers as well as a list of the different varieties of cucumbers for pickling. I am always amazed by the many different varieties.

http://sustainableseedco.com/organic-cucumber-seeds/

http://www.burpee.com/1/3/varieties-of-cucumbers-for-pickling

Recipes using Pickling Cucumbers

I still eat a version of this simple, yet very flavorful fresh cucumber salad when I go home to visit my parents. In fact, there is always some sort of homemade condiment on our table. Usually chow chow relish, sliced tomatoes and onions in a vinaigrette dressing, or something else fresh. My dad grows pickling cucumbers Spring and Fall. We have often eaten an entire salad from our family garden, including bibb lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, bulb onions, parsley, fresh dill. Below is my version of my dad’s cucumber salad.

Chef Sandra’s Simple Cucumber and Tomato Salad

A Visit to Havenhurst Park

I am always on the search for interesting food gardens and Havenhurst Park is one of my favorite discoveries. It’s located in West Hollywood, right smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The park is small and I was attracted to it because I noticed fresh herbs growing there as well as fruit trees, beautiful shrubs, wild strawberries and so much more. Neighbors who live in the neighborhood are actually allowed to pick fresh herbs for their own use. Since my daughter lives in the neighborhood, we have been known to grab some fresh thyme or rosemary to use for our cooking. Depending on the time of the year, there is always something different and interesting growing.  All of the photos shown were taken in the park on a couple of my visits there. This was the first time I had seen pomegranates growing.  Not something I see in Texas!

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Pomegranates are some of the most interesting fruit I’ve seen growing. The size of a ripe pomegranate can be as small as an orange or as big as a grapefruit, depending on its variety. Pomegranates have a rounded hexagonal shape with thick yellowish to reddish outer layer. The ones in these pictures are about the size of a baseball.

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Inside a pomegranate is about 700-800 tightly packed seed casings called arils that are deep red in color when ripe.  The taste of the juice differs depending on the variety and its state of ripeness.  But basically, it can be sweet, sour or tangy.

Nutritional and Health Benefits of Pomegranates

Pomegranates have a very high content of punicalagins, which is a potent anti-oxidant component found to be responsible for its superior health benefits.

Amazingly, research indicates the capacity of anti-oxidant in pomegrantes is two to three times higher than red wine and green tea.  In fact the level of anti-oxidant is even higher than those of other fruits known to have high levels of anti-oxidants including blueberries, cranberries and oranges.

They are also a good source of vitamin B (riboflavin, thiamin and niacin), vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus.

Common ailments that are known to react positively with the use of pomegranate or its juice:

Immune booster:  The anti-oxidant nutrients in pomegranates are critical in building up your immune system. Drink juice high in anti-oxidant when you feel a cold coming.

Morning sickness/nausea:  Mix and drink an equal amount of honey with pomegranate juice for relief.

Asthma:  The high content of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in this fruit is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. It can greatly reduce wheezing in young children with asthma.

Sore throat:  The anti-inflammatory agent in pomegranate juice significantly reduces the soreness and redness in the throat.

Anemia:  Add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon with a little honey to a cup of pomegranate juice. Especially beneficial for women after monthly loss of blood due to menstruation

These look like limes, but are actually Lisbon Lemons. Lisbon is the variety of sour lemon favored by inland California growers.  Check out the best lemon trees for your location:   http://www.growcitrus.com/tag/lisbon-lemon/

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The Lisbon is more vigorous, more cold resistant and more tolerant of poor growing conditions. It exhibits a less open growth habit and covers its limbs more completely with foliage. These characteristics make it the better of the 2 lemon varieties to use when planting a lemon hedge.

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The tree is thorny but productive. Winter and spring is when the Lisbon produces its biggest crops but some fruit will be present on the tree almost all the time.

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These fruits can be eaten fresh, dried, raw, or cooked, which changes the flavor, but they are generally sweet and pulpy. If allowed to ripen fully, the flesh can almost be scooped out with a spoon. There is also a misconception to allow them to ripen almost to a rotting state, but in reality, you should allow them to ripen until they are fully soft, which is often misconstrued when compared with other fruits that are called “rotten” when they become very soft and pulpy.

How to Eat a Persimmon

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Nutritional Facts of Persimmons

The long list of health benefits that this interesting fruit can confer on people is due primarily to its very high vitamin and mineral content, as well as some unusual organic compounds. These include vitamins A, C, E and B6, as well as dietary fiber, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous. Its organic compounds are probably the most important parts, and they include catechins, gallocatechins, betulinic acid, and various carotenoid compounds that fall within the B complex of vitamins.

 

It’s Basil Week!

If I had to choose just a few herbs to have in my kitchen, basil would definitely be on my short list of herbs to have available.  Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow both indoors and out, and is also considered the “ premiere culinary herb”.

As a Personal  Chef,  I use basil in tons of dishes, and my clients especially love it when I use basil or other fresh herbs from my garden.  Basil combines very well with rosemary and thyme in meat dishes, fish, vegetables, cheese, soup and eggs and is also one of the main ingredients in pesto, along with pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

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The basil photos you see are from my spring/summer garden. I’m growing  Sweet Genovese Basil which is excellent in Italian dishes, but is also good  in many other things.  One of my favorite things to enjoy basil in is smoothies, believe it or not.

Speaking of smoothies and basil, I recently had an amazing “BASIL BOMBSHELL” which is the name of a smoothie I get from Luca’s on Sunset in LA when I am visiting my daughter.  As a matter of fact, I was just at Luca’s this past Saturday with my best chef Buddy and partner in crime,  Chef Sevilla Riley  www.chefsevilla.com and my daughter Adrienne. I think this was close to my 10th visit there with Adrienne for either a smoothie or some other healthy drink. Luca, in the photo below is the owner and is so down to earth.  Luca  makes everyone feel welcome. If you enjoy a delicious healthy smoothie, check out Luca’s when you are in LA. I told Luca I would send him a shout out.  Here’s a link with a list of smoothies and other drinks. They will also let you choose other things in your drinks and they have healthy options.

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www.lucaonsunset.com/Menu.html

Stop by, ask for Luca , and tell him Sandra and Adrienne sent you!

VARIETIES OF BASIL

There are well over 60 to 100 varieties of basil; however, they all fall into three main types:  sweet, purple and bush.  Each offers a subtle difference in taste; and varieties such as lemon, anise, and cinnamon basil give you can easily modify and enhance a recipe .  It only takes a few leaves to transform a simple dish – even a sandwich.   I am in the process of discovering many more varieties and plan to grow a number of other varieties.  I’ve had great success with Thai Basil too.

If you are a basil lover like me, then you’ll really like this site with photos of many varieties of basil.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=varieites+of+basil&qpvt=varieites+of+basil&FORM=IGRE

HEALTH BENEFITS OF BASIL

Basil is also considered one of the healthiest herbs.  Of course best when fresh, basil exudes a sweet, earthy aroma.

  • Skin and Hair Health - When used as a skin and hair moisturizer, the essential oils of basil enhance the luster of dull looking skin and hair. Basil is also effective in treating acne and psoriasis.
  • Basil is full of Vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting
  • Also includes iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium
  • Vitamin A – which contains beta-carotene, powerful antioxidants that protect the cells lining a
  • Immune System – evidence shows that the antioxidants and volatile oils in basil make it of great assistance to the immune system.
  • Topically – basil leave may eliminate bacterial infections, while enjoying basil in food can help combat viral infections, including colds and flu.
  • Digestive tract health - anti-flammatory food providing important healing benefits as well as relief from inflammatory bowel conditions.  Can also provide immediate relief from the gas in your stomach and intestines, treat constipation, stomach cramps, indigestion and flatulence.
  • Bone and Connective Tissue
    The essential oil of basil contains a liquid called eugenol, which can inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme which causes swelling in joints and bones among other places. Aspirin and ibuprofen work by blocking the same enzyme. This enzyme-inhibiting power makes basil an anti-inflammatory food that can heal and give relief for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Easy Basil Vinaigrette Dressing Recipe

10 Varieties of Basil and Their Uses

I hope you enjoyed my basil journey.  Stay tuned for more garden adventures.

10 Varieties of Basil and Their Uses

Who knew basil came is so many different varieties! Amazing fragrances like cinnamon, lemon, and lime and beautiful colors from bright green to deep purple. Whether you're using it for landscaping or to accent your favorite foods and beverages, you're sure to find a variety of basil that's your favorite.

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