How to Eat Daylilies

One of my greatest late winter pleasures is scouting my gardens for signs of new growth. I'm not a fan of cold weather, so I usually begin looking far too early. But by February my searching is rewarded. One of the first perennial flower beds to show signs of new life are my daylilies. Yum, I'm hungry!

Many parts of the hardy daylily are edible. The earliest leaves which emerge from the ground are the first parts I harvest to eat, when they are very young and most tender. I pinch off the center few leaves from a plant, leaving outer leaves so they will continue to grow. Harvesting a few leaves from many plants scattered throughout the bed doesn't effect their growth as a flower garden later in springtime, and it provides me with a nourishing fresh winter green. The taste is very subtle, and the chopped leaves can be used raw or cooked. I have added chopped young raw daylily leaves to creamy dips and salads, and I've cooked them in omelettes, soups, and stirfries. Keep cooking to a minimum, to retain their crispness and bright green color.

Later in the growing season, the unopened pods of the daylily flowers can be snapped off to cook. I prefer these in stirfries and sautées. The petals of the bloom are also edible, and add lovely color to a salad without altering the flavor. I've also read that the root tubers are also edible (and reportedly delicious simply quick-cooked in oil or butter), although I've yet to try cooking with them. The only trouble with the latter is that digging the roots destroys the plants, while the other parts of the daylily are 'sustainably harvested,' allowing the plants to continue to grow. Daylilies are a workhorse, as you can see, as well as a striking bedding plant... I grow them in masses!

My gardens are all organic, so I have no hesitation about cooking with edible flowers and wildplants. For my most recent stirfry with daylilies, I harvested several other plants from my garden and from the wild, as the photo shows. Notice that I harvest the top growth from the garlic I plant in the fall (I harvest the garlic bulbs in June.) I added these fresh greens to my wok last, after cooking chopped onions, celery, carrots, napa cabbage, and sweet peppers. I added cooked rice-based ramen noodles (sans any pre-packaged seasoning - yuck!) and the spicy peanut sauce I've posted in this blog as an oriental salad dressing. It was delicious!

When picking parts of daylilies to eat, I stick to the traditional orange "tiger lily," which is native to Asia, even though I grow many other colors. Visit a daylily farm and you will be overwhelmed at the variety of colors, shapes, heights, and flowering time. It takes willpower to limit your purchases, they are so lovely and easy to grow. Or visit me... I usually have an over-abundance of plants to dig up and I love to share them!

It may be a bit late for my local friends to eat daylily greens this year, since our 7+ inches of rain in February and temperatures reaching the 70s have made everything start growing fast, but be sure to plant and try daylilies for your future kitchen creations.


Sweet Potato Fries

It's sweet potato time, and I'll be digging some from my own garden soon. I still have some of last year's harvest stored in the basement (my sweet potato storage tips are below), so I've been cooking them a lot lately. Here's the best method I've found to make sweet potato fries which are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just the way I like them… without any frying.

Sweet Potato Fries

Recipe type: Vegetable dish
Cuisine: Vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free
Makes: 2-3 servings
Note: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 lb)
1 T coconut oil
1 t salt
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced (about 1 t)
1 T of mixed herbs and spices of your choice (for example: Italian herbs, cajun spice mix)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into sticks like fries. I cut mine about 3/8" to 1/2" thick. Boil water in a 3 qt saucepan. Add the cut potatoes to the water and cook at a rolling boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and drain off the cooking water.

Put the potatoes and all other ingredients into a bowl or bag and mix until the potatoes are coated thoroughly. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread the cut potatoes in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the sticks over and bake for about 20 minutes more, until the outsides are browning and crispy. Remove and serve immediately.

One of these days I'll try this recipe with my sweet potatoes cut with my spiralizer cutter… yum, sweet potato curly fries!

NOTE:  For long-term storage of sweet potatoes, here are my tips:
The longer the potatoes are in the ground, the sweeter they will be. If a heavy frost kills the above-ground vines, dig the roots within days or the potatoes will begin to rot. I dig my own sweet potato roots a few days after a rain, so the soil has been softened by the rain (our Tennessee clay soil is very hard when dry) and when the roots are not too moist from the rain. I dig them up carefully, loosening the soil about 2 feet from the main plant, then mostly digging by hand so I won't pierce the potatoes with my pitch fork. Don't wash the potatoes, just carefully brush off the dirt. If necessary, set them in the sunshine until the dirt is very dry and it will come off more easily. Use any bruised ones right away.
     I "cure" my harvest by laying them on layers of newspaper on my covered porch. Our daytime temperatures are usually still in the 80's at this time of year. I allow the potatoes to dry this way for at least 1 week, since this helps heal the places where they were separated from the roots. I've also read that you can do this curing in the oven, so check that option online. If you buy your sweet potatoes from a farmer, ask if they have been cured similarly. Once the curing is done, I put the potatoes in a large corrugated cardboard box, separating each single layer with plain brown kraft paper, and I store this in my basement which remains about 60 degrees year-round. Below 55° can make the potatoes darken and change texture, so don't refrigerate them. Check your storage occasionally and remove any which are rotting and use any which begin to sprout new growth right away.
     With these steps for curing and storing my home-grown sweet potatoes, I can easily enjoy them until the next year's harvest is ready.


Golden Milk Two Ways

A lot of people I know take turmeric root, a traditional culinary spice, in a capsule as a supplement. The medicinal properties of turmeric's component called curcumin (or curcuminoids) are well documented. Tumeric is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain relieving, anti-coagulant, anti-depressant, and reportedly reverses specific disease. I heard there are over 6000 clinical studies about turmeric's healing properties

I like to get my daily dose of turmeric in the form of an age-old drink called Golden Milk. There are many online recipes for this mixture of turmeric, ginger root, black pepper, cinnamon, coconut, honey and sometimes other ingredients. There are also turmeric teas, and I bought two delicious blends called "Turmeric Spice" and "Turmeric Truffle" on a recent visit to a fabulous tea shop in Blue Ridge Georgia called Tupelo Tea. I've read that drinking Golden Milk before bed is most beneficial, but I honestly like it any time of day.

BEWARE - the turmeric stains yellow, so don't cut the root or measure the powder on a porous surface or get it on your clothing. Golden milk can also turn a white ceramic mug yellow, but a bit of elbow grease cleans it off.

Below are my two favorite variations for making Golden Milk. The Golden Milk Latte is pictured in the above photo on the right and the Golden Milk drink made from the paste is pictured on the left.

I grow turmeric and ginger root and make this frappe-like drink in my Vitamix from the fresh or dried roots I've harvested. Some grocery stores are now selling turmeric root, so you don't need to grow your own. Feel free to vary the quantities to your taste, but don't leave out the pepper - it increases the body's absorption of the tumeric enormously.

Recipe type: Drink
Cuisine: Gluten Free, dairy free, vegetarian, medicinal
Makes: 2-3 servings
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

Fresh tumeric root (equal to about 2 t if chopped)
Fresh ginger root (equal to about 1 T if chopped)
1 T coconut oil
1-2 T honey
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t pepper
2 c milk (I use almond milk, but you can use dairy or coconut or other nut milks)

Combine in a Vitamix and process until the roots are finely chopped and the mixture is smooth. If you want it hot, process until it heats up, about 4 minutes. I like it hot or cold. Also, I use the lesser amount of honey and add some of my homemade stevia extract for a bit more sweetness.


I make a batch of this paste and leave it in the refrigerator, making it easy to mix up some Golden Milk anytime.

Recipe type: Drink
Cuisine: Gluten Free, dairy free, vegetarian, medicinal
Makes: 1-1/2 c
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

1/2 c ground turmeric
1 T ground cinnamon
1 T ginger root powder
1-1/2 t black pepper
1/2 c coconut oil
1-3/4 c water
1/3 c honey 

Mix everything but the honey in a saucepan, whisking. Heat to just starting to boil. BEWARE - the turmeric stains yellow, so don't let it bubble and splash your clothing (it wipes off the stove surface). Continue to whisk over a low boil for 10 minutes. The mixture will get thick. This cooking process helps make the turmeric less bitter.

Cool the mixture. Add the honey and stir to fully incorporate it. Pour into a glass jar, cover and refrigerate. Keeps for several weeks.

Determine how strong you like your Golden Milk by trying 1 to 2 tsp of the paste per 8-10 oz cup. To dissolve the paste I put it in my mug or pitcher and add just enough very hot water to cover it. Stir well, then fill the mug with milk (I use almond milk; dairy, coconut or nut milk are fine, and can be warmed if desired). 

Some people like to pour the mixed golden milk through a fine sieve, but I don't mind having a little sediment at the bottom of my cup so I skip this step when making one cup. If I make a pitcher of Golden Milk, I use my lovely English tea strainer as I pour into my mug. I like a bit sweeter taste, so I often add some of my homemade stevia extract, but more honey would be fine also.


Watch for my upcoming post on using the fabulous spices of golden milk to make cookies!


Lemon Curd - New and Improved!

Don't be turned off by the word "curd" - it doesn't sound too appealing, particularly for a concoction as heavenly as this. Curd is a traditional British spread, most often made from lemons but sometimes from other citrus fruit. It is thick, soft and creamy, with a great tartness mixed with sweet. Since my Florida friends Dee & Len supplied me with fabulous organic lemons from their own tree, I've been making lots of lemon recipes. The fresh lemon juice has been wonderful for many of my favorite recipes, like my Caesar Salad Dressing and Scampi recipes. When my nephew visited I surprised him with one of his favorite desserts my mother used to bake for him, Lemon Bars. (I'm still working on a healthy version for a future post).

I decided to make Lemon Curd, remembering its wonderful taste when we had some on scones at Afternoon Tea on a long-ago visit to England. My recipe search revealed it is most often made with butter, white sugar, eggs and the lemon ingredients, all cooked together to make the mixture thick. I have nothing against butter - in small doses - but I substitute here with nutritious coconut oil. Eliminating the sugar was a no-brainer for me, and raw local honey works fine to sweeten the curd. Some recipes I read used whole eggs, others the yolks only; the explanation is that yolks and whites cook at different temperatures, sometimes making the curd lumpy and needing to be strained. Since I get fresh eggs from my friends, I wanted to use the whole egg, and I discovered a tip from another blogger to avoid lumps:  slowly beat all the ingredients together before heating the mixture. And it worked - no lumps and no straining required. Just a melt-in-your mouth sweet/tart flavor with little specs of flavorful rind.

So now I've made several batches of Lemon Curd. Yesterday I decided to double the recipe and combine equal parts of lemon and orange, since I had one big organic orange in the fridge that needed to be used. I served the Orange and Lemon Curd to guests at a dinner for 10, as a topping for fresh fruit, and got lots of positive comments. I look forward to trying Key Lime Curd sometime. You can use Lemon Curd as a spread like jam on toast, muffins, or scones; mixed into plain yogurt; as a topping for fruit or ice cream; swirled into cheesecake; as a filling for tiny tarts; as a spread between cake layers… or eat it as I sometimes do, right off a spoon!

I've grated and juiced the rest of my lemon stash, freezing what I haven't used right away, so watch for other lemon recipes in future posts. This Lemon Curd recipe takes a wee bit of time, as my Scottish friend Maggie might say, so now I've got the lemon parts pre-done. Incidentally, it's best to use organic citrus, especially when you are using the rind, since many of the toxins from chemicals reside in the peel of sprayed fruit.

Lemon Curd

Recipe type: Topping
Cuisine: Gluten Free, dairy free, vegetarian
Makes: 1-1/2 cups
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

    1/2 c of coconut oil, softened or melted
    1/4 cup of honey
    3 eggs
    1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
    1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained and pulp used elsewhere

Using a food processor or mixer, beat the coconut oil with the honey until well combined. Slowly add each egg while continuing to whip until frothy. Gradually mix in the zest and juice and beat well.

Put the mixture into a saucepan over medium/low heat. I like to use a spatula. stirring constantly as the mixture thickens. Be sure to scrape along the bottom of the pan so the mixture doesn't burn and do not allow it to boil. The thickening happens pretty fast; when you can leave a clean path on the spatula when you wipe your finger on it, remove from heat. The curd will thicken at 170°F, and will get thicker as it cools.

Refrigerate for several hours to thicken. Will keep about one week or longer in the refrigerator. Freezes well.


How to Prep Blueberry Bushes

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits to grow and eat, as I revealed in a previous post "Top 10 Reasons to Grow Blueberries." Here in SE Tennessee, I start preparing for my summer blueberry crop months earlier, usually in February. It is best to do the necessary pruning, cleaning, and feeding while the plant is dormant.

I now have a dozen established blueberry bushes scattered in my gardens, with many different varieties suitable for growing in the South. It's hard to beat the nutritional value of wild blueberries, but they don't grow on my land so I'll happily settle for cultivars. The varieties best suited to our hot humid growing season don't seem to grow as fast from one year to the next as those I once grew in New Hampshire, perhaps because they prefer well-drained soil to our clay. But I'll settle for the great production of big sweet berries from my 12 bushes.

Here in Tennessee, I have bushes in all 3 southern varieties. Misty, a southern highbush type, is my earliest (and favorite) variety, so when it begins to show new growth I know it is time for prepping the blueberries. Here's what I do:
  • Clean away leaves, weeds, and anything else that covers the soil around the base of the blueberry bush. Be careful, blueberry roots grow near the top of the soil.
  • Cut off any branches, stems, or ends which are not showing any new growth, especially big old main stems. Cut off branches which are criss-crossing with other stems. Keeping the bush open and uncrowded helps keep it healthy in our hot humid growing season.
  • If the plant is sending up new suckers from the ground where you don't want it growing, cut them at the soil line.
  • Amend the soil with good compost, spreading below the bush out to the drip line
  • Blueberries prefer acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.2). If your soil tests show more neutral soil, you can add garden sulphur to the ground to lower the pH.
  • Blueberries are sensitive to certain fertilizers. I prefer an organic slow-release fertilizer and I use Espoma Holly-Tone (4-3-4) since it is specifically for acid-loving plants. I sprinkle the amount required (based on the size of the bush) over the soil.
  • Blueberries are also high nitrogen-feeders, so you can add some cottonseed meal at any time.
  • Mulch the ground under the bush with pine straw, but keep it a few inches off the main stems. This will help control weeds and keep the ground insulated and moist during the growing season. Pine straw helps keep the pH in the acid range.
All your efforts now will reap great results come harvest time!


My Favorite Winter Greens

I don't remember ever eating collards before I tried growing my own. Now I love them and they are a staple in my winter garden. The leafy plants grow continuously in cool weather and provide delicious fresh greens even in our coldest months. Winter is fairly mild here in Tennessee, but even after being buried in snow and subject to freezing for several days, the collard plants spring back to life and begin to grow again. I just ignore them and they grow! No bugs and very few weeds in the winter gardening, so that makes it easy too.

Southern style collard greens are traditionally cooked with ham hocks or bacon and cooked until what I consider to be "mush!" I prefer to saute chopped leaves in olive oil with onions, garlic, herbs, and perhaps some tamari soy sauce. I've also discovered that collard leaves are much easier to stuff than cabbage leaves, so I've created this entree….


Stuffed Collard Leaves 

Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Gluten Free
Makes:4-6 servings
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog
The four collard plants in my garden are flourishing, so I've been trying new recipes. I've loosely based this creation on Polish stuffed cabbage rolls, called golabki. I don't eat much red meat, and I reduced the amount for this recipe vs. the traditional rolls and added chopped squash. You could easily make a vegetarian version by substituting about 1-1/2 cups of chopped vegetables (carrots, broccoli, celery) for the ground beef and skip the egg and top with chopped nuts. I used my ground dried red jalapenos for just the right touch of spice, and you can adjust the heat level to your preference. This preparation is more time-consuming than I usually spend, but it's a one-dish meal (with good leftovers for the two of us) which helps justify the labor!

12 fresh collard leaves
1 T olive oil
3 fresh scallions, chopped
1 T  fresh parsley, chopped
1 t minced garlic
1 small squash (yellow or zucchini), chopped or other fresh firm vegetables
1 T tomato paste
1-1/2 c tomato marinara sauce
1-1/2 c cooked brown long grain rice
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1/2 t hot jalapeno powder
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c feta cheese crumbles

Blanche the collard leaves very briefly to soften, by boiling them in water for 1 minute then plunging into ice water for 2 minutes; drain. Line the bottom of a greased 3-quart casserole with two or three leaves, cut in pieces if necessary. Spoon about 1/4 c of the tomato sauce over these leave.

In a skillet, saute the scallions, parsley, garlic and squash in oil briefly. Add tomato paste, 1/4 c of the tomato sauce and cooked rice, mix together. Spread mixture to the edges and brown the ground beef in the center, breaking it into small pieces. Mix it into the rice mixture, add the hot pepper powder. Remove from heat when the beef is mostly cooked. Let it cool slightly, the mix in the beaten egg.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To stuff, lay one leaf flat and plop about 1/2 c of the filling in the center. Fold up the stem end, then the sides, then the top, to create a little bundle. Put it into the casserole, smooth side up. Repeat with the rest of the leaves. Top with the rest of the tomato sauce. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, remove the casserole, uncover and sprinkle with feta cheese, Return it to the oven, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve. The leaves laid in the bottom of the casserole make delicious cooked greens too. 


Not Your Mother's Rum Balls!

My mother was renowned for her homemade sweets. One of her most popular holiday confections was Bourbon Balls, made with crushed vanilla wafer cookies, corn syrup, confectioner's sugar, and a lot of other ingredients which are not in my kitchen! In her memory, I've come up with my healthier version, and invite you to try these sweet treats with your own favorite alcoholic flavoring. The photo above shows them ready for my holiday buffet, along with some chocolate peppermint bark I also made.

Spiked Chocolate Balls
Recipe type: Candy Treat
Cuisine: Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Makes: About 2 dozen
NOTE: Ingredients in red type are detailed on the "Ingredients" page of this blog

3/4 c raw hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 c almond flour
2 T coconut oil, softened
1/4 c coconut palm sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 c alcoholic beverage*
Coating suggestions:  powdered sugar, sweetened cocoa powder, finely chopped almonds (about 2 T)

* Use your choice: rum, bourbon, scotch, creme de menthe, coffee/orange or other liqueur, etc.

Put all ingredients except the coating into a food processor. Process until sunflower seeds are chopped into small pieces and the mixture sticks together. Remove to a covered container and refrigerate until the chilled coconut oil hardens the dough. Scoop with a small spoon and roll in your palms to form 24 balls, each about 3/4" in diameter... the warmth of your hands will soften the dough. If making ahead, refrigerate these balls in single layers between wax paper sheets. Before serving, put your choice of coating into a small zipper bag and shake a few balls at a time to coat them. If you roll the coating on too far in advance, it sort of melts into the dough and disappears. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

As my mother always did, I decided to coat mine with powdered sugar. I don't keep 10X sugar on my shelves, and didn't want to buy a box for such a small amount. I stock regular white sugar for my hummingbird feeders. So I put about 2 T of white sugar into a clean coffee grinder and whirled it into just the right amount of white powder. This also works with sweeteners like coconut palm sugar (making a light brown powder) or types of raw sugar.