#UnearthedParty: Book Review + Cooking with Herbs

Today I have a special book review to share with you: Alexandra Risen’s new release, Unearthed: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden. You might know about my participation over the part year in the Book Club Cookbook cooking project [see all my posts here]. Well, the same lovely group of food and book-loving folks are now launching a new food blog party feature… and I am happy to be part of the fun! So without further ado… my contribution to #UnearthedParty!

#UnearthedParty - a book review & herb cooking ideas on thepajamachef.com

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

In this moving memoir, a woman digs into a garden and into the past and finds secrets, beauty, and acceptance.

Alex’s father dies just as she and her husband buy a nondescript house set atop an acre of wilderness that extends into a natural gorge in the middle of the city. Choked with weeds and crumbling antique structures, the abandoned garden turned wild jungle stirs cherished memories of Alex’s childhood: when her home life became unbearable, she would escape to the forest. In her new home, Alex can feel the power of the majestic trees that nurtured her in her youth.

She begins to beat back the bushes to unveil the garden’s mysteries. At the same time, her mother has a stroke and develops dementia and Alex discovers an envelope of yellowed documents while sorting through her father’s junk pile. The papers hold clues to her Ukrainian-born parents’ mysterious past. She reluctantly musters the courage to uncover their secrets, while discovering the plants hidden in the garden — from primroses and maple syrup–producing sugar maples to her mother’s favorite, lily of the valley. As every passionate gardener knows, to spend time with the soil is the opposite of escapism — it is to embrace our own circle of life and hold it close.

As usual, my five point review:

  • I loved the theme of restoration and redemption in this book. The author had a hard family life… she never thought she would marry and have a family because of her past, but eventually she did. I loved reading about how she found healing through her garden. As she worked with the soil, clearing the overgrown land, her soul and her spirit were cleared as well. It was like this project was meant just for her… and reading about this was captivating. As the author’s story is told through present-day incidents and flashbacks, the result is a seamless story about triumph over life and the land.
  • The author’s parents survived World War II in the Ukraine, and later immigrated to Canada. I enjoyed learning about that country, and considering the effects of immigration and war on families and the next generation. We live in a privileged time, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
  • The book was well written and wove together memoir-type musings, information about gardening, and enthusiasm about foraging and even a little bit about living off the land [in the city]. The author’s passion for gardening is evident. My one complaint about the book is that some of the gardening/foraging information is a little dry and textbook-y. But it IS informative, and made me want to work outside.:)
  • Each chapter cleverly was named with a different food/plant that connected with the themes of the chapter. Sour cherries, sumac, mulberries… the plants run the gamut from common to unique, and each chapter includes a recipe using its respective plant. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily make many of these recipes just because I don’t have any idea where to forage these items in Nashville, but the book does provide suggestions on foraging if you are interested and emphasizes–multiple times–how to do so safely.
  • Lastly, this book has inspired me to tackle tough problems, whether the overgrown elements of our yard that we’ve ignored [#truth] or even things with #BabyVolde such as improving his nap habits. I can’t emphasize enough that this isn’t just a book about the restoration of a garden, but about the restoration of a life too.

But wait, that’s not all! Normally my book reviews stop here, but since this book is all about food and gardening, I’ve gotta share the food love.:) Instead of making a recipe from the book–they are all SO creative but the ingredients are a little tough for me to source seeing as I have a newborn… I thought I would round up some of tried and true methods of incorporating fresh herbs in my kitchen. I think herbs are a great way to ease into gardening [and maybe the author would agree]. Most are super simple to grow and only need some water and sunlight to thrive. Every year, I always grow a bunch out on my deck and it’s so fun to snip a few while cooking.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs! When I can, I’ve added links to recipes or basic instructions. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments. Enjoy!

I like to make herbs the main star in the following dishes:

  • for grilling/baking – marinate chicken, fish, or beef with a herb marinade. Blend together several handfuls of fresh herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley with some vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Let meat marinate in a plastic bag for 8-24 hours, then cook as desired.
  • for pesto sauce to use with pasta, grilled meat, etc. – you don’t have to use basil and pine nuts for a fabulous pesto! I love making mint-pistachio pesto and thai basil-almond pesto. Yum!
  • for salad dressings – I grow thai basil just to make this dressing every year. No joke!
  • for flavored water – I love keeping a pitcher of water in the fridge and adding a handful of mint or rosemary leaves to the water, using a wooden spoon to muddle them. Mmm, so refreshing! Sometimes I add fresh berries too!
  • for making shortbread cookies fancy – these rosemary shortbread stars are my favorite!

Herbs are also great when you want to add extra flavor to your basic favorites.

  • homemade hummus – this cilantro lime version is fabulous! Don’t be limited by the hummus varieties in the store. Fresh mint + pineapple sage is a wonderful combo of herbs that would be great in hummus!
  • roasted chickpeas – basically, drain and rinse a can of chickpeas then toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons finely chopped herbs of your choice. I like fresh basil, marjoram, and chives. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees F, flipping halfway through. Roasted chickpeas are a great snack and are also wonderful on top of a salad.
  • any sort of cheesy or potato-y dish, like Baked Cauli-Tots or Mashed Potato Casserole
  • any type of biscuits or rolls
  • herbs can be mixed in with salad greens for added freshness and flavor
  • herb simple syrups are wonderful for making fresh drinks in the summertime. Your favorite lemonade, iced tea, or iced coffee recipes can be amped up by making a herb-based simple syrup. My ratio for simple syrup is to mix 1 cup each sugar [or honey] and water in a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup herbs, then bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool and let the herbs infuse for 30-45 minutes. Strain out herbs, and store in a jar in the refrigerator. I like making honey lemon-thyme syrup, ginger-mint syrup, honey-rosemary syrup, and plain ‘ole mint syrup… but I can honestly say that I’ve never made a BAD simple syrup.:) Mix into your favorite drinks as desired.

For more herb inspiration, check out this article from Fine Cooking! Don’t forget to harvest your herbs at the end of the summer. Just wash and dry, then hang up for a few days to dry completely. Store in a jar and use all winter long. You can also preserve herbs by freezing in olive oil using an ice cube tray. I’ve also heard you can just freeze washed and dried herbs in a plastic bag in the freezer. Never tried that but it sounds easy enough!

I know this post may be a little all over the place, but I hope you see how much I liked this book and cooking with herbs. Hope you check out this great book and start cooking with herbs.:) Please share your favorite ways to use herbs in the comments below!

Please visit #UnearthedParty folks on social media to learn more. I also want to give a shoutout to the author for her WONDERFUL maple granola, and to Rolling Rock Farm for sending a gift pack of sea salt & pepper blends. Thank you all for making this party something special!
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publisher
Alexandra Risen, author
Book Club Cookbook, party organizer
Disclosure: I received a complimentary pre-release copy of this book from the publisher. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks for the chance to read this great book and join in the party!

 

Menu Plan

Hey everyone! How has your weekend been so far? Mine has been great–as has the past week, since Baby Volde and I have been in South Carolina at my parents’ new house in Bluffton. My sister, nephew, and some other relatives have been here too so it’s been great! But we are looking forward to a normal week, and to seeing Ben soon! He had to stay home and work. Boo! But alas, someone’s gotta bring home the bacon. And speaking of bacon… check out the meal plan below. You don’t want to miss my grandma’s recipe for blueberry muffins!! They are simply the BEST!:) Have a wonderful Sunday, all!

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Monday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Tuesday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Wednesday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Thursday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Friday

  • DAY OFF – Go out to eat or order in!

Saturday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Sunday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Breakfast

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Dessert

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

This week’s meal plan was brought you to by:

The Pajama Chef | Big Bear’s Wife | The Cooking Actress | Pies and Plots | Foodtastic Mom | The Spiffy Cookie

Pin this to your meal planning board for easy access all week long!

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers! Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

 

Menu Plan

Happy weekend! This weekend has been fun. Since Ben went back to work this week, it was nice to have him home for a couple days.:) We’ve gone on a couple of family walks, enjoyed ice cream for National Ice Cream Day or Month or whatever the holiday technically is, and just hung out together. Tonight we plan to grill. Yay! And without further ado… here’s our meal plan for the week! Hope your week is tasty!:)

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Monday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Tuesday

Oven-Fried-Avocado-Tacos

Wednesday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Thursday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Friday

  • DAY OFF – Go out to eat or order in!

Saturday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Sunday

Side Dish

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Dessert

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

This week’s meal plan was brought you to by:

Foodtastic Mom | The Spiffy Cookie | Big Bear’s Wife | The Pajama Chef | Pies and Plots | The Cooking Actress

Pin this to your meal planning board for easy access all week long!

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers! Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

 

Oven Baked Tacos

You’ll love these crispy, melty baked tacos! The filling is made from both beef and beans, so it’s extra delicious!:)

You'll love these crispy, melty baked tacos! The filling is made from both beef and beans, so it's extra delicious! :)

What’s better than–and easier than–regular tacos? Oven tacos! I’m totally serious! These have been a thing for a few years now, so you may have already seen them before. But if you haven’t tried them yet, you should. ASAP. They’re a great way to make tacos for a crowd and in general, they’re just a great change up from regular taco night. Plus, it’s also fun to make homemade crispy taco shells! Though it involves being extra careful when you’re working with hot oven racks, I bet kids would LOVE to watch corn tortilla shells transform into crispy shells.:) I mean… I do, so what kid wouldn’t? Haha.

You'll love these crispy, melty baked tacos! The filling is made from both beef and beans, so it's extra delicious! :)

I’ve made this recipe as written below a handful of times, but I’ve always thought about how I could switch up the filling but keep the concept the same. I haven’t ventured very far yet–just subbing black beans from refried beans, but that’s a tasty start! I think these tacos would be great with shredded chicken, carnita meat, fajita veggies, pinto beans, or any other filling your little taco-loving heart desires! No matter how you make it, this dish is a favorite. It’s hard to decide what the best part of these tacos are–the crisp homemade shells, the bubbly and melty cheese, or the flavorful beef and bean filling… but I do know that these tacos have been part of our regular taco rotation for a couple years now so I hope you try them! If you need any sides for taco night, why not try my Mexican RicePerfect Black Beans, or this yummy Guacomole Salsa? Enjoy!

You'll love these crispy, melty baked tacos! The filling is made from both beef and beans, so it's extra delicious! :)

one year ago: Turkey Sloppy Joes
two years ago: BBQ Baked Spaghetti
three years ago: Honey Lemon Thyme Iced Tea
four years ago: Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes
five years ago: Spiced Waffles

Oven Baked Tacos

  • Servings: 8-10 tacos
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

from Macaroni & Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 8 to 9 corn tortillas [or for an easier twist, premade hard taco shells]
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 8 ounces refried beans [from half of a 15 ounce can]
  • 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons taco seasoning  [about half of a store-bought packet]
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
  • taco toppings – chopped lettuce, avocado, tomatoes; sour cream; cilantro; etc.

Directions:

Begin by making the crispy taco shells. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In batches, microwave tortillas in a damp dishtowel or paper towel, if you prefer, for about 20-30 seconds until tortillas are pliable. Coat on each side with cooking spray, then lay on a cutting board or plate. When all are ready, open oven and carefully pull out the top oven rack partially. Drape tortillas over rungs so they are hanging upside down and forming that hard taco shell shape. If you prefer, you can remove the rack before you preheat the oven so you can do this step with a cool oven rack and just slide it back in. I found it easier to do it this way personally though. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, until crispy, then carefully remove from the oven with tongs and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Adjust oven temperature to 400 degrees, then spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a large skillet. Remove grease, then stir in tomato sauce, refried beans, and taco seasoning. Heat on medium-low for a few minutes to heat through.

Remove pan from heat and fill each cooled taco shell with the meat mixture. Stand each filled shell up in prepared pan. Sprinkle everything with cheese, then bake for 10-12 minutes, until cheese melts. Serve with desired toppings and enjoy!

Note:

To reheat and retain the crispy shell, heat leftovers at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, checking carefully so nothing burns.

Menu Plan

What are you up to this week? Wish me luck, because this is Ben’s first week back at work [tear!] so I’m gonna have to learn how to take care of our little baby all by myself. I really can’t complain though, because Ben has been home with us for nine weeks so I know I’ve been so blessed and so spoiled. Evenings will take on new significance, I’m sure! If you try one thing from the menu plan below, try my Thai Seared Shrimp with Tomato, Basil, and Coconut. It was one of the first “fancy” meals I ever made for Ben back when we were dating, and it’s still a favorite today!:) Enjoy, friends! Have a wonderful week.

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Monday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Tuesday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Wednesday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Thursday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Friday

  • DAY OFF – Go out to eat or order in!

Saturday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Sunday

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Breakfast

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

Dessert

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!

This week’s meal plan was brought you to by:

Pies and Plots | The Cooking Actress | Foodtastic Mom | The Spiffy Cookie | Big Bear’s Wife | The Pajama Chef

Pin this to your meal planning board for easy access all week long!

Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers! Weekly Meal Plan - lots of great eats for the week ahead via thepajamachef.com and other great bloggers!