Home Made Marinara Sauce

Marinara

Since getting the new refrigerator, revamping the larder cupboard, getting the vacuum sealer and experimenting with canning, bottling and picking – we’ve been stocking up even more intensely. Well – now that we have the space, or the re-vamped space, and the technology – why not? Indeed, thanks to a fortunately-timed stop at the marked-down shelf at the local HEB a couple of weeks ago, I can report that our requirements for exotic vinegars, balsamic and otherwise, have been fulfilled for the foreseeable future. And one of our projects over last weekend was to clear out the deep-freezer in the garage. Yes, indeed – it is possible to lose track of what is on the rearmost shelves; we found a package of frozen chicken with a best if by date of 2008 on it, as well as some other stuff that was so old we didn’t even recognize it at all. Hence – our current insistence on labeling and dating items before consigning them to frozen storage.

This weekend I had a new project – that of making an enormous batch of marinara sauce. The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has a very simple and serviceable one on her website, but I went for broke and doubled it, with an eye towards adding different things when the basic sauce is eventually used. We do have a liking for meatballs in marinara over spaghetti, a dipping sauce with calzones, as a basis for eggplant parmagiana, and sometimes in desperation, for pizza. If I make it, we will use it, one way or another.

Slosh a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a fairly large pot, and gently sauté six or seven cloves of slivered garlic and two medium—sized chopped onions. When the onions are limp and the garlic aromatic, deglaze the pan with one cup of chicken or beef broth, and simmer until the liquid reduces by half.

Pour in a whole number-10 sized can of crushed tomatoes. A number-10 sized can will contain about three quarts of tomatoes; this is why I used the big pot to cook this up in. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme and a pinch of sugar.

I left this to simmer over low heat for nearly an hour. Toward the end of that time I added half a bunch or ½ cup chopped fresh parsley and about a quarter of a cup of chopped fresh basil.

I had a number of pasta sauce jars given to me by a neighbor who thought they were the sort which could be re-used in home canning – they can’t, of course, but they were a good size, and the batch of sauce filled up four of them. I put the lids on very loosely, so that the sauce would have space to expand as it froze and not break the jars. They do sell special containers for freezer condiments, or I could have parceled it out in vacuum-seal bags, but the recycled pasta sauce jars are what I had on hand, and they didn’t need labels.

When it comes to using the sauce, it can be used plain, or punched up with the addition of half a cup of sliced mushrooms, or chopped olives, pureed roasted red pepper, or some browned Italian sausage to every two cups of sauce. And that was

The Smell of Chili

I Love the Smell of Chili in the Morning …

For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, this was a popular San Antonio thing – various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established the custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the square, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours.

Very often the chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons … and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.

And it was a very local delicacy in those years. Texans took readily to a venison or beef stew highly spiced with local chili peppers (with or without beans, with or without tomatoes), especially in the borderlands. But it was also a seasonal dish – generally only served in the spring and summer when the fresh peppers ripened and were available in the market. Air-dried whole chilies were available, of course – but they just didn’t provide the same flavor-punch. There may have been many local gourmands who adored chili and wished to eat it year round, but only one of them did anything about it.

This was a German-American, Willie Gebhardt, who got his start in food entrepreneurship by owning a beer-garden and restaurant in New Braunfels in the 1890s. It’s often said among the Irish that there was an Irishman at the start of any interesting cultural, technological or scientific effort, but in Texas in the late 19th century this most usually fell to a German. Willie Gebhardt, like many other local cooks, developed his own special recipe for chili, and served it often in season – but on the side, he began experimenting with a means of preserving the essential chili pepper flavor.

Eventually he hit upon a means of soaking ancho chili peppers, garlic, oregano and cumin in a water-alcohol mixture, then grinding it into a stiff paste, which was dried under low heat. When dried, it was ground into a powder using a coffee-grinder, and packed in air-tight glass bottles. It was immediately popular; Willie Gebhardt took out a patent, calling it Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder. By the turn of the century, he had opened a factory – patenting a number of machines to expedite the manufacture of chili powder, which became and still is insanely popular. Eventually his factory, under the direction of a brother-in-law branched out into providing ready-made canned chili, and other staple Tex-Mex foods.

Since this cuisine was largely unknown outside of the southwest, Gebhardt’s company published a cook-book instructing American cooks how to use chili powder – the first nationally-distributed cook-book on Mexican food. The original recipe for Eagle Brand Chili Powder is still available, supposedly unchanged, although the company was sold to Beatrice Foods following on the death of Willie Gebhardt in 1956. (It’s available on Amazon – so is a facsimile of the original Gebhardt’s Mexican cookbook.)

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it’s time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years’ disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit … well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so — survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves … alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I’ve only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I’ve gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I’m also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There’s a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise.

And that is my week in the garden – yours?

Sorting out the Spring Garden in San Antonio

Spring in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Yes, we know very well that the official date for ‘last frost o’ the season’ for San Antonio is March 15th – but the trees are tentatively beginning to put on new leaves, the new grass – or what passes for the grass in weedy fields and verges – is already thick and green, and so it is time to get back to the garden. The suppliers have gotten the early spring vegetables starts in already. So – we went out this last weekend to get started in a bigger way, especially since the early lettuce and greens that we put in pots a couple of weeks ago did very nicely.

The topsy-turvy planters had been emptied of last year’s plants and the soil; we were so encouraged by the success of growing peppers and tomatoes last year that visions of beans, eggplant, zucchini and more tomatoes are dancing in our heads. It’s time to start with the seasonal herbs again, things like basil, which never, ever last through the winter. Sorry – the first time the temperature drops below 40 degrees, the basil is gonna croak, and hauling the pot indoors will not help. After (gulp) thirty years of growing herbs on balcony, back garden, or patio, this is akin to accepting that the sun will come up in the morning and go down in the evening.

Last fall, we found three earth box planters put out on the curb for bulk trash pick-up. I guess someone was going to move, or had just said the heck with growing mass quantities on the back porch, so we took them to our San Antonio home, and I looked up the website to find the manual. Hmm … as Mr. Spock so often observed, ‘Fascinating.’ So – first on the list: several massive bags of potting soil, granular fertilizer, plastic to cover the tops with; hey, just the regular garden stuff and kitchen string will do.

We did over-spend on plants. Lettuce and greens; eight tomato plants, some cardoons and an artichoke; I so love artichokes, very likely I will go back and buy some more. Herbs; oregano, parsley – two kinds of each, and my daughter discovered all the different kinds of mint that there are at the Antique Rose Emporium. Mint is an invasive plants – as persistent and unkillable as kudzu or crab-grass once established, although the various disasters that my back yard has been heir to for the last five years has eradicated the mint that I once had growing wild in the ground. Among the army of empty pots is a strawberry urn, with the eight little side pockets … which we have tried to plant twice times: first time with strawberries, of course.

Second time my daughter had a go with mixed herbs – with disastrous results. Oh, the plants did very well at first, but the trouble is that the water runs into the top of the pot and carries out the soil through all the little pockets. You have to water the darned thing pretty often, because of all the plants in it – but this time, my daughter had an ‘ah-hah!’ moment, considering the sheer, persistent toughness and durability of mint, and I suggested cutting circles of coir matting, with a slit in it and a small opening for the plant stem. So, my daughter spent her money on different flavors of mint plants – and some coir inserts – and we’ll see if the third time is the charm.

But … in all the excitement, I forgot to get basil. Darn.

San Antonio Spring Vegetable Garden Prepping

Never Too Early Garden Start

in the spring to begin reviving the garden.

 

But if I knew then what I know now about the topsoil in the yard around my San Antonio home, when I first moved in, I would have hired someone to come in with a small bull-dozer and scrape off the top few inches of topsoil. Then I would have had a third of it put back into place, and mixed with another generous third of sand and a final generous third of well-rotted compost.

This is what I have finished up with in most of those places where I have plants growing, by the way – doing it at the very start would have saved a lot of time and trouble. The prevailing topsoil around my neighborhood is clay – splendid for making adobe bricks from. It’s dense, heavy and soggy when wet, and as dense as a conblock brick when dried out. With a pick and a shovel you can plant things in it – but getting them to thrive and grow is another thing entirely.

In any event, one either has to amend the soil considerably – or just say the heck with it and plant things in pots. Growing things in pots has the advantage of being able to move them around, to arrange for best effect – rather like trying out various bits of furniture inside the house.

Anyway, last summer’s project to revive the garden is continuing – it’s not at all too early to begin planting a vegetable garden. We went out to the San Antonio home of Antique Rose Emporium on Evans Road and invested $20 or so in leafy vegetable starts: lettuce and mizuna, red sorrel, bok choy and spinach, and so on. I had excellent results a few years ago, growing salad greens from seed (in pots, of course!). It was really nice to be able to go out with a pair of kitchen scissors and harvest a few leaves of mache or baby romaine for a fresh salad.

This is just a start; we have three huge grow-boxes on hand, and will use them for more vegetables, later in the spring. I finally took a close look at them, for the first time that my daughter brought them home. Now we know why they were in the trash – someone had drilled drain holes along the bottom, which I suspect pretty much destroyed their usefulness. Ah well, this is what duct-tape and plastic cement were invented for.

So much for using them to for the salad greens; I just hauled out an assortment of good-sized pots from the vast collection, filled with potting soil plus a peppering of fertilizer … and there we are, all lined up along the south-facing wall of our San Antonio home. This is prime gardening territory, as far as my yard goes: it gets sunlight most of the day – when the sun is shining, of course – and is sheltered from winds. So far this year, we haven’t lost anything to cold winter weather. I actually believe that my yard remains about ten degrees warmer than the forecast winter low temperatures.

Eventually, this area will be wall to wall vegetables, just as the frame for the topsy-turvys will be. That’s how I’ll be spending the next couple of weekends – what about you?

 

 

Yes We Have Tomatoes

Reviving the Garden: Tomato Victory

by Celia Hayes

The curse on growing tomatoes in my garden has definitely been lifted: we have ripe red tomatoes on the vine, and promising clusters of green ones – and although they are not all very large, they are tasty. So the Topsy-Turvys do the trick as promised; even if they haven’t resulted in simply bushel-baskets of tomatoes, they have indeed tomatoes, which is about three steps farther than I have ever been able to go before. Next spring we will try out some of those heirloom varieties, and if my daughter, the queen of all garage sales, manages to score a few more Topsys at marked-down rates, we’ll soon have so many suspended from the tree in the back yard that it will be more than your life is worth to walk out there in a stiff wind without a hard-hat. Just consider it the marvelous hanging gardens of Spring Creek Forest, one of the seven wonders of suburbia.

The Cayenne peppers are bountiful and some of them are just beginning to turn red. I expect that when they are ready, I will pick and dry them, and turn them into pepper flakes, or pepper powder, which will keep us stocked for the foreseeable future, since that is one of those things that get used rather sparingly. My grandmother had a little tin box of Ben Hur brand cayenne pepper which lasted her forty years; no, she was not the most adventurous cook in the world. There are some bell peppers also coming up to ripening too, although the biggest is so heavy and the stem of the plant bearing it is in danger of toppling under the weight.

In other garden news, the two butterfly and humming-bird Topsys are thriving; the plants in them are, although since they are hanging in direct sunlight, the plasticized fabric they are constructed from is fading entirely. At some point, we might have to move the plants in them to the ground, if the sun disintegrates the fabric entirely. The plants that I bought in Wimberly at the beginning of summer are all doing extraordinarily well, especially the vine-thingy which is well on it’s way to taking over the trellis, and the pink-leafed potos which is . . . well, in the pink.

We hit the SA Herb Market two Saturdays ago, and added some more replacements for what was killed by last winter’s brutal cold snap: a pot of parsley, which is something I always like to have on hand, ditto some patchouli, a scented geranium . . . and a pot of sorrel, which I always used to have luck with, since I liked to make this particular dish with it.

This is from Sunset’s French Cookbook: Roast Chicken with Sorrel Stuffing

Clean and pat dry one 3-4 pound whole chicken, reserving liver, which should be chopped and sautéed in 3 Tbsp butter for about 2 minutes. Remove liver, and add 2 Tbsp minced shallots or green onions, and ¼ pound sliced mushrooms. When mushrooms are limp and lightly browned, add ¼ cup fine dry breadcrumbs, ¼ cup whipping cream, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, ½ tsp each salt and basil, and ¼ tsp each pepper, rubbed sage and thyme. Blend well, remove from heat and add 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley and 2 cups finely chopped sorrel. Fill body cavity of chicken with it, place on a rack in a 375 degree oven. Baste after 20 minutes with melted butter. Bake for about an hour, until leg moves easily when jiggled. Cut into quarters, and serve with stuffing, and pan juices to spoon over.

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Habits of Frugality Part 2

Frugality – Part Two

 

There are any number of ways to exercise second-hand frugality in San Antonio; one of our very favorite and every-day resources for second-hand books and movies is Half Price Books, which has several locations in San Antonio, although I’ve always been very fond of the location on Huebner. For extreme book frugality, though, nothing beats the regular library book sales, or the huge North East Independent School District PTA book sale, which is usually held in the spring, at the Blossom Athletic Center: acres of books, at 50 cents for paperback, $1 for hardbound.

San Antonio Neighborhood garage sales are a sometime thing – but a venue like Bussey’s Flea Market in Schertz is open every weekend: basically, Bussey’s is a three acre yard sale on steroids. Given unlimited funds and the use of a pickup truck, I could probably fit out an entire household with every necessity of comfortable, if not gracious living: furniture, linens, pots and pans, household décor – the lot, in a single weekend from combing the various regular and irregular vendors at Bussey’s.

In between weekends, there is always and of course the various Goodwill stores – especially the Goodwill off of IH-10 in the Medical Center area. Thrift stores located in well-to-do locations can on occasion be gold mines for the budget-minded but discriminating shopper. One of our very favorite thrift stores is the honestly-named Thrifttown, in the shopping center at Thousand Oaks and Perrin-Beitel. Quite often Thrifttown has new merchandise on the clothing racks – I presume from stores disposing of unwanted items or from the store closing entirely. Now and again, we have found top designer labels, all mixed in. For pure up-scale second-hand, though, nothing beats Too Good to Be Threw: I used to check regularly when they had a shop in Alamo Heights. Now they have four locations for clothing and furniture – all of them scattered the length of Blanco Road.

For those who simply cannot bear second-hand, there are other options to exercise frugality. These can basically be divided into two groups: one of them is the massive outlet mall in San Marcos, which seems to have quadrupled in the last fifteen years. They even added a canal with a gondola in it, in an attempt to look like Venice, I think. (It doesn’t much: I’ve been to Venice. But on the up-side, at least it doesn’t smell like Venice.) The other non-second-hand choice for frugality is the Tuesday Morning chain, of which there now seem to be ten in San Antonio alone: very, very upscale merchandise, generally. If I want to give a very posh-appearing and high-quality wedding present and not spend a bundle on it, Tuesday Morning is the very first place that I would head towards.

And finally – for the every-day frugality: the grocery store. Our local HEB has a marked-down rack, tucked away in the back of the dairy and cold-juice corner, for out-of-season seasonal items – like the Topsy-Turvy hangers that we planted tomatoes in – and for bottled sauces, spices, herb teas and other items approaching their best-if-sold-by date. One never knows what is going to be there, but it is certainly worth checking it out. We have been able to sample a great many gourmet sauces and salsas that we otherwise would never have purchased at the regular price.

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2011 Annual Herb Festival At Pearl Brewery

20 Herbs to Remember

Written by Randy Watson

The 20th Anniversary of the San Antonio Herb Market presents the “20 Herbs to Remember” … at the Pearl Brewery Complex, 312 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio, TX. Saturday, October 15, 2011 from 9:00am to 4:00pm.

The 2011 San Antonio Herb Market. The free SAWS-sponsored event features cooking demos, lectures, and activities for the kids! Purchase fresh herbs and other plants, handmade soaps, olive oils, books and other products to delight your herbal senses. Visit with experts on organic gardening, and choose from an array of handmade gardening items to purchase for your patio, deck or yard.

The Herb Market is free and open to the public. Mark your calendars for this very special event!

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19th Annual San Antonio Herb Market

Created Thursday, 07 October 2010 22:45

Herbal Remedy

By Julia Hayden
19th Annual San Antonio Herb Market
Saturday, October 16, 2010
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Pearl Brewery Complex
“Herb of the Year” = Dill

Ah, at long last – respite from the customary brutal heat of summer in south Texas, when that glorious day dawns. The low temperature at night drops into the fifties, the high of the day is maybe for about twenty minutes in late afternoon when the thermometer crawls up to the mid-eighties, and all over the city one can hear the sound of windows being raised, cranked open and flung wide to admit the delicious fresh and unfiltered air . . . yes, the woman rushing from window to window last week and screaming ‘fresh air, fresh air, good god almighty, fresh air at last!’ – that was me. Pay no attention, I do this every year, round about this time.

The other thing that I do round about this time every year, is anxiously look around for the date of the yearly San Antonio Herb Market; This years’ market is set for Saturday, October 16th at the Pearl Brewery. The Herb Market is now in it’s nineteenth year. Gads . . . it’s been going on that long? I moved to San Antonio in the spring 1994, courtesy of the US Air Force, and am pretty sure I discovered the annual Herb Market event that year. I’ve made an effort every year since, to get there, by hook or by crook, even if I only had a budget of $20 or so.

Every penny spent at the Herb Market would be worth it. The yearly Herb Market was at Aggie Park, then – a funky oak-tree grown patch of pocket-park at the corner of 410 and West Avenue. For a glorious Saturday, Aggie Park would be full of vendors and potted plants, and the little pavilion with vendors of herbal products like soaps and teas. Last year, they moved to larger and more up-scale digs at the Pearl Brewery, in conjunction with the Saturday Farmer’s market – I missed the shade of the trees, though. Ah, well – march of progress and all.

The garden that I have, in front of and round the back of my house is chock-full of plants originally purchased at the Herb Market in 2 or 4-inch pots: who knew that South Texas would be such a bountiful place for growing useful kitchen herbs? Rosemary grows the most rampantly, and without any special care at all, but sage – all varieties – thrives as well. Oregano, and Echinacea, parsley and mint; given half a chance mint would grow like kudzu and take over half the neighborhood. I have a thriving olive tree that I first bought at the Herb Market, an acacia, some Kaffir limes, a nutmeg bush, and a young bay tree that now is closing on sixteen feet tall.

There is no need for me – or anyone else in my neighborhood to buy dried bay leaves at the HEB, just snip off a fresh one when required. Lavender grows beautifully also; with the caveat that enough sand must be dug into the bed where it is planted in order to break up the solid clay. But the other essential herbs in my garden – basil, thyme and scented geraniums, all must be renewed yearly, and sheltered during the coldest days of winter. The Herb Market is be very best place to do that renewing – don’t miss it.

 

 

 

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Created Thursday, 08 October 2009 15:17

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

And patchouli, lemon-grass and key lime … all of which grow in my San Antonoio back yard, or in pots hanging from trees along the side garden by the front door. Or all but the parsley, both pots of which has died back to the roots and beyond. I once had a volunteer parsley plant which came up in a sunny spot along the side of the house, and thrived for several years, on a thick stem the size of a parsnip. There is nothing like the taste of fresh herbs, and nothing like the convenience of being able to duck out of the kitchen and snip a couple of teaspoons of parsley, or rosemary, or pull a fresh bay leaf from the tree, or a handful of basil … especially basil, which is peerless when fresh and green, but when dry tastes of nothing in particular.

Oh, we are fortunate gardeners in Texas, for having two growing seasons in the year, and not just the traditional northern hemisphere cycle of plant in spring as soon as winter ends, grow over the summer and harvest quick-before-winter-descents. In South Texas, it’s more like a pair of short cycles, spring and fall, wedged in between a short winter, and a brutally hot summer. The recent rains kicked up new growth and a spurt of blooming in my garden, and got this fall growing season off with a bang; and just in time for the San Antonio Herb Market, which is put on every year, in mid-autumn. This year’s Herb Market is set for Saturday, October 17 – not at Aggie Park, where it was always before, but now at the old Pearl Brewery, at 200 Grayson Street.

I’ve always loved the Herb Market primarily for the plants, because many of the vendors there were the first to sell exotic herbs; not just the usual stuff that you could find at any nursery, but the exotica – hanging pepper vines, lemon-grass and kefir limes, for example, and just about every kind of scented geranium around. Increasingly, there were more and more local and boutique vendors in recent years with stuff made from herbs: soaps and room scents, and perfume, teas and baked items and the like. All of this made the indoor venue dizzyingly aromatic, and the perfect place to pick up Christmas gifts, or even just a few items to pamper yourself with.

One of the sponsors of the Herb Market is the San Antonio Herb Society. A couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of their cookbook: one of our favorite cookie recipes is this simple one, for lemon verbena cookies.

See you at the Pearl Brewery, next weekend. I’ll be the one buying more parsley plants.

Recipe for lemon verbena cookies

Cream together ½ cup butter and 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar.

Add ¼ teaspoon lemon extract

Stir in 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped lemon verbena leaves and 1 cup sifted flour

Roll dough into small balls, and flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in water, or your fingers. Bake for 10 minutes at 350.

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