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Sunday, 30 June 2013
Purslane in your Garden???
Topic: Garden

Good Afternoon on this beautiful sunny (for a change) Sunday:

I am busy making Sunday dinner which is, of course, including a tossed salad. Here's a photo of the usual tossed salad most of the year—greens, maybe tomato and onion and a vinegar and oil dressing- right?? And if you're lucky the greens are varied and coming from your own garden.



But now it's the time of the year where we can also forage the garden for edible herbs to kick this salad up a notch and –below you'll see that I went to the garden and snipped some fresh herbs to chop into the salad.




I know you'll recognize the parsley, cilantro and basil...but did you wonder about the herb in the lower left corner? Here's a closer view...



It's purslane, not specifically cultivated in a nice row in the garden, but growing among it's friends and between the blocks in the garden dividers—some might refer to it as a weed, but I'm starting to consider it a cover crop!

It goes by the name of PURSLANE!

Oddly, though it grows like a weed, we don't begin to appreciate that it's probably the most nutritious herb out in our garden.

Below are a couple of references for your reading. (Now get out there are reconsider your viewpoint. Pick and USE this so-called weed if you're lucky enough to find it growing in your yard!)

Purslane - Weed It or Eat It?

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture

Is it a weed or a wonderful taste treat? Purslane is cursed and curried all at the same time. For most of us, it comes as an unwelcome guest. Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is probably in your garden right now but not because you invited it to dinner.

Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. Many cultures embrace purslane as a food.

Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. They look like baby jade plants. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. It is closely related to Rose Moss, Portulaca grandiflora, grown as a "not so weedy" ornamental. Check out U of I's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification website for some great pictures of purslane.

Purslane is an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. You may find that fact either depressing or exciting.

If you are trying to control purslane the number one rule is don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. Again depressing or exciting. Running a tiller through purslane is called purslane multiplication.

Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poorest arid soils. A rock driveway is nirvana to purslane. It's succulent characteristic makes it very drought tolerant. Purslane prefers the fine textured soils of seedbeds as in vegetable gardens or open soil areas in paths. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep. Tilling brings seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may again help to control it. Since it germinates in high soil temperatures also means it doesn't appear until June when preemergent herbicides may have lost their effectiveness.

Now if you are in the "if you can't beat 'em than eat 'em" category, you won't go hungry this year. There are plenty of purslane plants out there and I'm sure your neighbors would love to share theirs with you. If you are a connoisseur, you can also purchase purslane seeds for the cultivated forms for better flavor and easier harvesting. They tend to grow more upright than the wild types.

With purslane aficionados the preference is in eating fresh young plants, and especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Use purslane in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye. Purslane can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. It tends to get a bit slimy if overcooked. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Seeds are also edible.

Before grazing in your yard be sure to wash the purslane thoroughly and make sure it is free of any pesticides. As with any new food, don't over indulge. For recipes go to http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html .

Here's another excellent article on purslane and nutritional value.


Have a great time re-considering your attitude towards this so-called weed!

Posted by Karen at 13:29 CDT
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Saturday, 29 June 2013
After the rain
Topic: Garden

Have you ever taken a moment to walk 10 feet into your garden after a rain and just stop and look around? Not up into the sky miles away--but directly at the objects in front of you.

Observe the impact of nature in those several seconds of transition from the end of a thunderous downpour through the silent, frozen state before the flowers unfold and straighten again...






And before the coleus unfurl and fly their colorful flag-leaves?





And notice how the firm baby pears look so determined in position along with their much larger leaf partners...




And how the baby apples almost smile through their freshly washed faces...





But look especially closely after a thunderous downpour and you'll see something nature might have wanted you to miss...especially if you're a potential predator!!!




Against the brick wall, there is a fledgling bird who was unceremoniously ejected from its nest and down into origins of the Boston ivy vines. I propped a couple of pear tree branches that had also gotten blown down, over the area--to conceal the bird from the next batch of potential predators who would be out of the house behind me--the four dogs. I don't fear the Shepherds who have no interest in little birds, but I have two Yorkies, one of whom would probably bring me this little birdie back as his version of a present!


With the weather we've been having this Summer, you'll likely have the opportunity in the next few days to have a thunderous downpour...Nature is inviting you to look right in front of your nose and right under your feet. Next time, don't look at the sky to see the next batch of weather, but just within a ten foot range to share a different viewpoint.

Posted by Karen at 11:07 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 29 June 2013 11:17 CDT
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Sunday, 9 June 2013
A Chicken in Every Crockpot ???
Topic: Recipes

All my readers know how enamored I am with the slow cooker (aka crockpot) so it might shock you to know that I have never cooked a whole chicken in one before this past week...then I did it twice.


I think I didn't believe that you could put a chicken in the crockpot, whole and without any additional sauces or liquid and have it turn out juicy and moist.


My first experiment was cautious. I spray-oiled my crockpot and smeared barbeque sauce on the chicken, put it on "Low" and actually left the house. The next time I looked at the chicken it was fully cooked at 8 hours and sitting in about 2 inches of natural juices.


My second experiment was going as liquid-free as possible. In my first experiment, I did use barbeque sauce. The second experiment--simply an herbal rub blend. And the chicken was a free range chicken from a friend's farm so I knew there was no added juices hidden under the skin or injected into the flesh.


Here's a picture of the chicken going into the crockpot with just a herb rub.




And here is the chicken 8 hours later, in its natural juices that extruded from the whole chicken.





This chicken was moist and delicious--and the huge bonus I got was this amazing chicken stock--not broth--but true roasted chicken  stock. Notice how little is fat in this picture of a container of the juices, after refrigeration.



Finally, after eating the chicken for dinner one day, I easily removed the remaining pieces of chicken from the bones and reserved to cook with some onions, mushrooms, a bit of stock and cream and some pieces of asparagus --then toss into oat bran pasta and top with a little Parmesan--  A chicken in every crockpot indeed!








Posted by Karen at 16:30 CDT
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Thursday, 6 June 2013
Miscellaneous Farm Updates
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

I know I risk  criticism by starting blogs with--"it's been really busy around here" more than once a year. But it seems to be a repeating theme.

Below is a picture of "Orange Tag 102"--a 3 year old Black Angus cow who had one successful pregnancy last year and just delivered her latest calf...literally about 2 hours before this picture was taken 


We're just about done calving. Free range animals give birth in their pastures. And, we don't ever interfere with the natural process unless there's a problem. Instead we "round" on the herd multiple times a day looking for any behavior changes or problems with calves.


For instance, when we checked on the herd this morning, we saw Orange Tag 102 grazing away from the rest of the herd. She was several acres away from the rest of the cattle, eating contentedly and, as we would find out, waiting for the impending birth. So we inspected her closely, noted distended udders and returned a couple of hours later to find her with calf born, and placenta pending. We left her privately and returned an hour later to photograph Mama and Baby--the picture you see above. Though again--since everything was fine--we stayed back far enough to not create any anxiety in the mother with her newborn. Everything was fine so there was no need to interfere. We'll re-check the cow and calf pair again in a couple of hours.


On another one of our inspections a couple of weeks earlier, my husband noted that another calf was not gaining weight as anticipated. A call to the vet ensued, the calf and mother were examined and it was determined that the mother was not producing enough milk for the baby. That baby is now in our barn as a "bottle calf" which we will feed until she's ready for weaning and will re-enter the herd.


Cute thing, isn't she? Thankfully it's a girl, so we CAN get attached because she will be with us for her whole life. Another bottle calf we had a few years ago was also a female and is in the herd. Little Ma, as we called her, really can't be distinguished from her cohort group of (now) cows.


Other great news on the farm: we have two amazing summer interns working and learning with us this Summer!

Nguyen is an Animal Sciences major and Jack is a Crop Sciences/Agribusiness major, both are University of Illinois College of Agriculture students. Our cattle, chickens, vineyard, garden and hayfields are going to be spoiled with their attention!





Posted by Karen at 17:45 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 6 June 2013 18:18 CDT
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Saturday, 25 May 2013
Sweet and Savory Kale
Topic: Education and Values

It has been busy around this Farm the past two weeks--but the garden is finally planted and the new calves are being born on schedule.

Last night after spending the entire previous day-- several hours-- non-stop planting transplants and seeds and diligently watering them all in, we stopped for about 10 minutes to watch the amazing full moon rise  No, I didn't get a photo, a slow motion video would've been more interesting. It was a great conclusion to weeks of prep work by the tractor and my husband and then both of us finally planting everything.


So, the cattle are busy eating THEIR greens.




But, MY greens are still twinkles in my eyes. I had to resort to the fresh market for a package of kale. And, I'm so glad I did. I found this great recipe that I am sharing below "Sweet and Savory Kale".


If you'll recall in my last post, I mentioned that certain people should not eat raw food, because no matter how well it is washed, it is not sterile, so there are still organisms on the surfaces. For those with weakened immune systems or low white blood cell counts, they shouldn't take the chance of getting infections from raw foods. But EVERYONE can eat this cooked kale recipe, because the food is heated through, above the so-called "temperature danger zone" (41-135 degrees F) where bacteria multiply best. Because it's a cooked food, you should refrigerate leftovers promptly and then re-heat leftovers (this "previously heated food") to 165 degrees.


Wow! Lots of food safety rules but worth the read--keep everything safe for everyone!


Sweet and Savory Kale



(Nature's Greens Recipe)



2 Tbsp. Olive oil


½ medium onion, chopped (I used a red onion)


3 large clove soft garlic, minced



Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onion and garlic, until soft.



Whisk together:


2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard


1 Tbsp. cider vinegar


1&1/4 cups of chicken broth


Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add:



12 cups of washed and chopped kale leaves (1 lb bag of pre-prepped kale greens)



Stir in the greens and cook until the kale leaves are wilted.



Add: 1/3 cup dried cranberries, stir and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, at least 10 minutes.



(The recipe also calls for ¼ cup sliced almonds sprinkled on top but I omitted this, favoring the cooked greens right at this point.)

Doesn't this look good???






Posted by Karen at 21:36 CDT
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Friday, 10 May 2013
Baby Greens, Lettuce & Food Safety in the Garden
Topic: Education and Values

About those baby greens...

We all know how nutritious and appealing those dark green, colorful baby greens, lettuces and herbs are in a salad, don't we? And, of course, how pretty they are in edible gardens, raised beds, and container plantings. Most everyone who plants a garden will plant an assortment of greens and lettuce.





Today's post is a reminder of how to best harvest and then prepare those raw greens.

This container of triple-washed, properly refrigerated organic baby mixed greens is safer eaten directly from its carton than if you were to wash it again in your kitchen sink!






In fact, you should not risk any unintended cross-contamination to this product by putting it anywhere other than your refrigerator for continued cold storage OR directly into the salad bowl for mixing and eating.

The standards in the industry for this food product is to harvest in the coolest part of the day and immediately field cool, then cold water wash and “spin dry” --meanwhile assuring that all equipment involved is sanitized and human handlers adhere to hand-washing standards at frequent intervals.

Greens are not “sanitized” but pathogens are minimized. Techniques include mitigating field contamination (flood waters, runoff water, contaminated irrigation water, bird droppings, animals, etc) , mitigating human contamination (proper instruction and handling), rapid and continuous cooling below 41 degrees, adhering to “good agricultural practices,” and quality monitoring of practices.

But, even with great techniques, raw greens are not recommended for people who have low immune defenses such as low white blood cell counts, on chemotherapy, etc. If in doubt, double-check with your doctor and ask if they advise restrictions in eating raw foods.

How can you improve your food safety practices with baby greens and lettuce that are home-grown in the backyard garden?

Pathogens grow best at room temperature so we want cut greens and lettuces to be kept at refrigeration temperature, below 41 degrees (but not below freezing of course!). Remember this counts for those cut greens and lettuce leaves you are buying at a Farmers' market or produce store, too! They should be in coolers or refrigerated cases when they're sold to you and ideally, you should keep a cooler in your car for transport back to your house especially in the Summer.

Another way to reduce pathogens on your raw leaves is to dress salads with acid based dressings, think about vinegar-and-oil and lemon juice-and-oil. In general, all salads should be served immediately after dressing, or return back to refrigeration.

Now that you've harvested, cooled, washed, and refrigerated your baby greens, how about a nice salad?

Here's my salad from last night:









Baby kale, Swiss chard, spinach dressed with equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil—whisk into an emulsion and toss with the greens 40 times. Then add some toasted walnuts and goat cheese crumbles.

Finally—did you notice from this post that I gave you at least 3 great ideas for Mothers' Day?

Posted by Karen at 16:21 CDT
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Saturday, 4 May 2013
Limoncello: The Rest of the Story

Limoncello- the rest of the Story

In my post on April 20, 2013, Lemons-Part 1: The Zest, I talked about making an Italian liqueur called, Limoncello. The recipe is included in that post. And I promised pictures when my final product was done.

I first had Limoncello by accident during a tour in Italy. I say “by accident” because the waiter asked our group of diners if we wanted some after dinner. Now, we were sitting with two very comical sisters from New York (we later nicknamed them the “Andiamo Sisters” because they were always up for anything). Already over-tired on day one from a transatlantic flight, it was our first group orientation dinner out. The wine with dinner had gone to our heads. We all thought he said “lemon jello”. Looking at each other quizzically, we all said “sure.” Why they served lemon jello in Italy was beyond all of us—we were soon educated to our mistake.

My sister, Kathy, reminded me that she first heard about the beverage in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” I'd forgotten about that part in the movie where Diane Lane's character falls in love with an Italian man whose family business is making “Limoncello.”

So—here is what my 50 lemons of zest peelings incubated with vodka yielded: 3.5 liters of golden, lemon-infused vodka.




Having multiplied the recipe by 3.5 times, I had to make the simple syrup in a stock pot to accommodate the volume. After it cooled to room temperature, I added the vodka. I can tell you at this point my kitchen smelled like a bar in a Summer resort just lacking the odor of tanning oil--(and I was getting loopy just from the aromatics. I turned on the exhaust fan).

I then bottled the results in sanitized glass containers (you can sanitize using detergent and the “hot wash” in your dishwasher.) The Limoncello needs to incubate another 2 weeks at room temperature. Then I will decorate and label the bottles—I plan to give away most to friends, but I'll reserve that ½ gallon one for the Summer Reunion dinner parties—remember it makes a nice cocktail diluted with seltzer water and over ice—kind of a sparkly vodka lemonade.




So, that's the rest of the story...

Posted by Karen at 08:18 CDT
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Friday, 3 May 2013
Oatmeal Apple Walnut Muffins (and a side of cheese)
Topic: Recipes

Oatmeal Apple Walnut Muffins (and a side of goat cheese)

Sometimes you need a comforting warm muffin for breakfast, especially when it's cold and rainy and you just got back from opening gates to change pastures for cattle. But try to make your own and avoid the over-processed, highly sugar-y commercial muffins. This recipe has very little prep time and can bake while the coffee is brewing (and you're changing into dry clothes).

Here's a quick recipe for 6 muffins, no added sugar, and you can substitute oat or rice flour for wheat flour if allergic to wheat. It's more like a quick bread than a sweet roll and is complimented by a wedge of simple cheese (and a mug of steaming coffee or tea!). If you feel you want it sweeter, I'd suggest just drizzling a little honey over the muffin when it's served.

Oatmeal Apple Walnut Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 6 muffin pan with spray-oil.

In a small bowl, combine the following :


½ cup oatmeal

½ cup whole wheat flour (or can substitute oat or rice flour or even almond flour)

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp vanilla

½ tsp cinnamon

1 beaten egg

2 tbsp. Vegetable oil

4 oz. applesauce (if not using your own, this is the snack pack size)

¼ cup walnuts

Bake about 25 minutes at 350 degrees until muffin springs back. Cool about 5 minutes in the pan, loosen as needed with a butter knife and lift out. You can serve immediately, nice and warm. Just add your choice of beverage.




Posted by Karen at 10:41 CDT
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Saturday, 27 April 2013
Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup
Topic: Recipes

Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup




Over the past two weeks, eight new calves have been born. The weather has turned from rainy to nearly Summer-like and I have the strong desire to plant in the garden. It's no wonder since the increased hours of sunlight and balmy breezes have that effect on you.


But even the ubiquitous mint is still asleep. Only the tiniest of little mint leaves are starting to protrude (I went out to check yesterday). And I have been burned by thinking, “this is an early Spring, maybe I should plant early this year”--only to find frost at the end of May and replanting of vegetables a second time.


It's better to stick to the rules for one's Zone and not try to mess with Mother Nature.


Looking on the bright side—here's an exotic recipe that uses root vegetables and legumes—foods you probably have around the house right now. And, it adds some exotic spices and seasonings which you may have to run out for—but won't regret having around the house for future recipes.


The original recipe “Moroccan Chickpea Soup” comes from Mary Karlin, author of "Artisan Cheese Making at Home"—a book I recommend you adventurous cooks might want to check out.

I emphasize "Chickpea and Lentils" in my title because the green (or brown) whole lentils are just as important a legume in this soup. I also made a few taste adjustments. Feel free to modify the recipe to accommodate your preferences, too. The reason the recipe is in a book about cheese-making is because the author suggests to add a dollop of yogurt cheese when serving. This can be eliminated, however with no change in the richness of the soup.


I made my own vegetable stock by cooking 1 small potato, 3 medium carrots, 1 onion, 3 stalks of celery—all scrubbed, then chopped –cooked in 8 cups of filtered water about 30-40 minutes until the stock is golden. I then drained the vegetables to yield the stock. I did not add any other seasonings or salt because I intended to adjust seasonings in the soup itself. The cooled vegetables went to the chickens as a treat.



Homemade Vegetable Stock



Moroccan Chickpea and Lentil Soup


1 onion, chopped

2 large carrots, diced


Saute together in 3 tbsp olive oil in a Dutch Oven- cook until onions are soft, translucent.



1 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp cane sugar

2 (14.5 oz) cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes and the juice

8 cups of vegetable stock


Bring this to a boil, then cut back the heat to simmer.



2 cans (15 oz) rinsed and drained chickpeas

¾ cup dried whole lentils, either brown or green


Cook at a simmer until the lentils are al dente about 25 minutes.


Add the following spices:


1 tsp dried mint leaves ( or some baby mint leaves chopped !)

1 tsp toasted cumin seeds (I toast these in a small frying pan for a few minutes)

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp tumeric


Note: you may want to prep your spices and measure in a small bowl, adding to the soup together. Here's a photo of the spices in a bowl before adding to the soup:


Cover the soup and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Then add :

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves. Adjust seasonings and salt as desired.


At this point, you can serve it—the author suggests offering Harissa, a garlic and hot pepper seasoned sauce—OR, since I will be taking this soup to a group—I elected to add ½ tsp of dried hot chili powder directly to the whole pot of soup and that gave it just enough kick—Your choice here.





Posted by Karen at 09:55 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 27 April 2013 09:58 CDT
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Sunday, 21 April 2013
Lemons Part 2--The Juice!
Topic: Education and Values

Lemons- Part 2

The Juice

So, now that I have zest peelings incubating with vodka and lemon oil extracted from others, I can work the juice extracted from about 50 lemons, yielding this half gallon of juice and pulp. Because I used a juicer on seeded, peeled lemons, I have some residue pulp and stuff which can easily be skimmed off or run through a strainer.


Then I have wonderful, healthy, truly organic and fresh lemon juice.

Must try a classic lemonade first. In fact, I have been craving a glass of lemonade since I woke up this morning. And you know the kitchen wisdom that says —if your body craves a particular food, it must need one of its components.



This tall glass of lemonade is made from 2 ozs. Fresh lemon juice, and 8 ozs. of pure and chemical free-water. Add your choice of natural sweetener (pure cane sugar, honey, Stevia extract, agave nectar, etc)

Proportions again are 1 part lemon juice to 4 parts water. Add in sweetener to taste.

Remember drinking my glass of lemonade above is equivalent to eating 1&1/2 lemons. I must have needed the natural vitamin C, citrus bioflavinoids, potassium and calcium that lemons have or, maybe just hydration--

Of course, last night I needed to make a Classic Lemon Meringue Pie.


I used the Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe since I was feeling very “retro” having just worked with all that zest. But, mind you, I hadn't made anything meringue in maybe 2 -plus decades. So, I consulted the book, put the meringue on the pie and placed it under the broiler as directed. I turned the broiler on “high” and, following the directions, intended to wait for 3 minutes.

I peeked at one minute and, thank God! My meringue had just ignited and was a flaming marshmallow surface


I quickly put out the fire—only a few moments' worth of blaring smoke alarms and no witnesses.

Then, I peeled off the black skin (just like when you ignite marshmallows on a stick over a fire). I still had sufficient meringue to send the pie back under the broiler, now on “low” and several inches below the heat source. It was ready in about 45 seconds.

You know what happened, right? My double oven is electric—the last time I made meringue it was under a gas broiler whose flames were no where near as hot as the high setting on an electric one.

Moving on...

Two other great ideas for lemon juice are in marinades and salads.


Mix equal parts of olive oil with lemon juice. Whisk until emulsified and add whatever seasonings your heart desires.



Example—the marinade for Chicken Oreganato ( or Greek chicken) has dried oregano, fresh garlic and chopped onions added to the lemon juice-olive oil mixture. The chicken is then grilled.

The strip steaks from last night's dinner were marinated in lemon juice and olive oil in proportions as above, but I added fresh garlic and some Italian blend mixed seasonings.


The possibilities are endless for seasoning combinations. Use your imagination.


Mix lemon juice and olive oil in either equal parts OR 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil, according to your acidity preference in your final product. Whisk briskly! Add spices and seasonings according to your final product, salt and pepper, whisk again. Pour over your vegetables and toss forty times (never forget that rule ) so that your lemon juice-olive oil dressing is completely distributed (from the French—fatigue le salad).

Here is where true creativity really stands out—you need to use your resources and adapt according to local food availability and don't be afraid of trying the truly old grains and legumes in your final salad. Definitely, think beyond lettuce greens alone (although, no question here that chopped kale, spinach, and broccoli love lemon juice-olive oil dressings)!

We are going to a party later today. So I wanted to throw together a light, salad-y lunch for us. I made some bulgar wheat, added rinsed chickpeas, drained chopped tomatoes, my equal parts lemon juice and olive oil with garlic powder, lots of parsley and cilantro—whisked and then tossed.  Rice, quinoa, pasta noodles, beans and lentils--all LOVE a lemon juice and olive oil based dressing.


Another salad that I love to make is Cannellini Bean Salad (White kidney beans). It really goes well with grilled meats in the summer. This salad with its lemon juice and olive oil based dressing, has chopped celery, carrots, green onion in addition to the rinsed and drained cannellini beans and the seasoning besides salt and pepper is...dried dillweed--whisk into the lemon juice and olive oil mixture and toss into your vegetables 40 times. 

You can see that lemon juice and olive oil based salads, because of their high acidity, are among the safest foods for picnicking and al fresco dining. But always try to remember the food safety principle: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold—as much as possible.

And enjoy that lemon juice!

Posted by Karen at 15:36 CDT
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