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The 5 best lemon herbs and how to use them

2 Sep

By Kathy Larson

This time of year, when gardens are overflowing with produce — tomatoes, zucchini, melons, peppers, basil and beans — we may overlook some of the less familiar herbs that season our bounty and brighten our summers.  And what flavor makes our mouths water more than that of lemon?

My garden offers the pleasures of five of the best lemon herbs — lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon basil and lemongrass. While all of these herbs share some common constituents that give them their characteristic lemony flavor and aroma, they also have other components that make each herb unique and enjoyable in its own way.

lemon basil

Lemon basil

Lemon basil is a cross of our everyday basil and African basil. Several cultivars are available, but I like ‘Sweet Dani” because of its intense lemony aroma and vigorous growth. The flavor is lemon-like and mildly spicy. It complements any dish where I might use lemon, such as fish, salad dressings and vegetables. It also makes an invigorating and tasty tea. Continue reading

3 strategies for cooking organic, local and seasonal food

3 Aug

By Alan Miles

I recently sat down with Liz Hopkins, chef and coordinator of Frontier’s in-house Organic Café, to talk about how she adapts the Café menu to the seasons here in Iowa. Liz and her assistant, Jami Kimm, work together to provide about 120 meals a day for Frontier employees.

Frontier Organic Cafe

Liz (right) plans and orders, while Jami — aka “CEO of the Salad Bar” — makes and stocks the dozens of salads and does most of the baking. The two of them together make and serve all of the meals and do all of the kitchen maintenance — from stocking to cleanup. They work hard, but also have fun! (No chefs were harmed during the taking of these photos.)

Locally grown and organic

Our café is committed to working with locally grown and organic food — and while not all of our suppliers are certified organic, all of them do practice organic agriculture. Our main produce and meat suppliers are right here in our own county, our cheese and eggs come from a creamery less than an hour away, and the farm that produces our certified organic CSA (community supported agriculture) share is only a few miles further.

With the mainstays of our café fare coming from local sources, Liz cooks according to our Iowa seasons as much as possible.

“Obviously, late summer is the easiest time for sourcing local,” Liz says. “Our suppliers have plenty of produce, and employees bring in their extra produce, too.” (And sometimes more than the café can use — it’s not unusual for employees to set out boxes offering others free produce from abundant harvests.) Continue reading

July Web Finds: A taste of travel, from glamping to world cuisine

31 Jul

By Katie Staab

While many nature lovers went on traditional camping trips this month, others latched on to the latest trend for enjoying the outdoors: glamping (glamorous + camping). While this trend intrigues us, we also felt the travel itch thanks to everything from vacation photos on social media to articles about world cuisine.

Whether you’ve been camping, glamping, globe-trotting or hanging around home – enjoy a trip around the world in our July web finds!


Photo by Big Red Kitchen

Glamping isn’t all about style — practicality is a factor, too. This idea for upcycling pill boxes into spice sticks is a practical way to bring the spices you need to add flair to your outdoor cooking. Continue reading

Navigating the meaning of clean eating: Clean Cuisine book review + giveaway

20 Jul

“Clean Cuisine” 7-layer salad, featuring Simply Organic Southwest taco mix.

Describing the way we eat today requires a complex lexicon of classifications: vegan, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, flexivegan … and so on. What about phrases like “clean cuisine,” that don’t describe what we do and don’t eat, but point to our understanding of how food affects our bodies?

In their new book Clean Cuisine: An 8-Week Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Program that Will Change the Way You Look, Age and Feel, authors Ivy Inghram Larson and Andrew Larson, M.D. share how their interpretation of clean eating has revolutionized their health, specifically through an anti-inflammatory diet. Continue reading

Preserve delicate flavor for year-round use with salt-dried fines herbes

16 Jul

Fines-herbes-1By Tom Havran

Fines herbes (feenz erbs) is a traditional French blend of delicately aromatic and flavorful herbs used to season subtly flavored dishes, such as eggs, buttery sauces, vegetables, chicken and fish. Gourmands prefer fines herbes made with fresh herbs, but you can salt dry fresh herbs to create an easily stored version with good flavor.

The classic fines herbes blend consists of tarragon, chervil, chives and parsley leaves. These herbs can be air-dried, but their constituents are so volatile and delicate that their unique flavors are largely lost into the air in the process. These same constituents are readily soluble into the fats and oils used in cooking — which is why they are preferred in their fresh form.

Fortunately, there is another way to capture some of fines herbes’ rare and elusive goodness. Salt-drying the fresh leaves will quickly desiccate the herbs and provide you with a delicately-seasoned salt to use long after the fresh herbs are no longer available. The addition of salt dramatically shortens the drying time, while the vast surface area of the crystals and their interlocking structure help to contain and fix the fugitive flavors of the fines herbes. Continue reading

The magic, art and science of stovetop distillation

9 Jul
rose mist

If you have access to fresh, pesticide-free roses in your garden, use those!

By Tom Havran

I’m as fascinated by how the essences of aromatic plants are extracted as I am by the essences themselves. Distillation is equal parts magic, art and science, and when I learned how to do it for myself at home with herbs and flowers from my own garden, a world of learning, possibility and mystery materialized in the steam before me. You can experience the mystery too with the following technique for a stove-top distillation of your own essential oil/hydrosol rose mist.

Although you would need to distill hundreds of pounds of plant material to get an appreciable amount of pure essential oil, this method will readily yield a few drops of essential oil floating upon a few ounces of water-based hydrosol in perfect, ready-to-use proportions. Continue reading

5 tips for learning how to use chia and other new foods

21 Jun

By Katie Shatzer

Chia and I did not start off on the right foot. It turned out to be all my fault, but I was able to learn from my mistakes — and develop a long-term relationship with this ancient superfood.

I was first inspired to make my own creation by a decadent photo of pumpkin chia pudding. I set to work making my first chia recipe that combined the seeds and unmeasured amounts (unmeasured is the keyword here) of milk, pumpkin puree, vanilla and cinnamon in a Mason jar. I simply gave the concoction a shake and placed it in the fridge overnight.

What I awoke to the next morning was nothing like the original photo. Instead of a sweet, thick, pudding-like treat, I found a slimy, grayish-orange goop. I braved a few spoonfuls before considering it a loss.

how to use chia

One of the easiest ways to use chia is to simply sprinkle a tablespoon over your favorite dishes. Here, chia adds a bit of crunch to one of my favorite breakfasts: oatmeal topped with fresh berries, dried goji berries and walnuts!

But I didn’t give up on chia completely. I wanted our relationship to work. So I continued my patient experimentation — even taking some breaks from chia — until I fell in love and it became a staple for me. Now, I eat it almost everyday.

If you’re trying to incorporate a new food into your diet, here are five tips that helped me:

1. Do some research. Whether it’s chia or another new ingredient, chances are someone else has some great ideas for how to use it. Look for an overview like this one I turned to for chia. Continue reading

Enjoy late spring with elderberry recipes

12 Jun

By Tom Havran

Late spring is elderflower season! The frothy white panicles of flowers are showing up in waysides, fencerows and wild areas all over the state. Get them while you can and savor their heady lychee/pear/peach aroma and flavor. If you miss the elderflowers, don’t despair — the berries are soon to follow.


You should only eat the flowers and berries of elder plants.

Forage for flowers and berries only in natural areas, ask landowner permission and make sure the area has not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. (Note: You should not eat elder stems and leaves.)

Below are a few of my favorite elderflower and elderberry recipes. Enjoy! Continue reading

May web finds: Summer recipe ideas and easy ways to slow down

31 May

By Katie Shatzer

This month, we pulled out the grill and began to embrace the flavors of summer. From that slight char on a burger to the crunch of fresh zucchini, summer food is about savoring the moment. And that’s my goal for this summer in general — slow down, appreciate the moment and eat some good food.

Find some inspiration in the summer recipe ideas and relaxation tips in our May web finds:

  1. If you enjoy a good burger (made with grass-fed, hormone-free beef, of course), it’s hard to beat one cooked on the grill. Topped with cheese. And bacon. Need I say more to convince you that these Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pub Burgers from simply scratch are a good idea?
  2. For the vegan crowd (or really, any crowd — who says meat-eaters and vegans can’t enjoy the same good recipe), we have a solution to the woeful summer problem of over-producing zucchini plants. Try using them in place of taco shells, as in this stuffed zucchini recipe from We Heart Vegan.
    Stuffed zucchini

    Photo courtesy of We Heart Vegan

    Continue reading

How to ripen an avocado quickly and 9 other avocado facts for Cinco de Mayo

2 May

avocadoSince no Cinco de Mayo party is complete without fresh guacamole, you probably carefully selected the perfect avocados during your pre-party shopping trip days ago. But, what if the day before before your party, you discover that, despite a few days of relaxing on your countertop, your avocados remain rock-hard, unlikely to be easily mashed into your favorite flavorful dip?

Not to worry! We’ve researched how to ripen an avocado quickly — and added other must-know facts about avocados here:

  1. There are close to 500 varieties of avocados.

  2. Avocados are actually fruits, and are often eaten with sugar or as an ice cream flavor for dessert in Brazil.

  3. An avocado ripens in 5 stages, from light green to ripe. Keep these in mind when you choose your avocado at the store. Continue reading


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