Friday, May 7, 2010

Fresh Herbs in the Kitchen

I have always like the ideal of using fresh herbs in the kitchen and found out this week that using them is much easier than you think. I had the opportunity to attend a local Herb Farm to learn more about these often forgotten home vegetable-garden plants.  With a few basic herbs growing in your yard, you can replace butter, salt, and oils to help reduce calories in your favorite recipes.  Some of the easier herbs to grow include basil, chives, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage.  When growing herbs, make sure that you start with a sunny location with good garden soil with good drainage.  Herbs do not like to have soggy feet.  If you do not have a sunny location, you can always plant in pots on your patio or deck.  Whenever using pots, it is best to keep the containers elevated off concrete or brick surfaces.  This will help to keep the plant's root system cool.

When harvesting herbs, it is best to cut in the morning.  This will help to insure the most oil is in leaves of the plant.  It is this oil which gives you the most flavor when cooking.  If you have extra herbs and would like to dry some for later use, you can simply cut herbs and bunch together.  Place a rubber band around the stem and hang upside down to dry.  Be sure to dry in a warm non direct sun location.  Making use of a closet or pantry is a perfect location.  After your herbs have dried, remove the leaves from the stems and store in air tight containers.  If you are harvesting basil, you can make pesto and freeze in ice trays.  the pesto cubes can then be store in freezer bags until ready to use.

Some basic uses for fresh herbs:

Basil - Add 1-3 teaspoons of finely chopped basil to one stick of butter. This can be served on crackers or small bread squares.

Chives- Chop and add chives to scrambled eggs and omelets at 1 teaspoon per egg.  Minced chives can be added to any vinaigrette salad dressing.

Rosemary - Chopped leaves can be added to cubed potatoes for roasting in the oven.  Drizzle with olive oil and minced garlic and place in a roasting pan.  Cook until soft.

Breads - You can add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs per one pound loaf of fresh baked bread.

Soups - fresh herbs can be added to soups & stews about 15 to 30 minutes before completing the cooking.

Hope that these tips have inspired you to purchase a few herbs to try in your garden this year.  Once you start cooking with your own grown herbs, you will not want to use the store bought dried herbs.