Cooking with Garden Grown Herbs
Herbs are a welcome addition to any kitchen. Your own herb garden, brimming with herbs that are useful for garnish, such as parsley and chives, and those that are important for flavor and aroma, such as basil and rosemary, lets you add a special touch to all your dishes. A pantry stocked with special herbal treats will also enable you to have something a little different for special meals or simply a treat.
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Sprinkle herbal vinegars and oils on salads all year round for a flavorsome alternative to bottled dressing. Herbal jellies and honeys are simple to prepare and can be used in a surprising number of ways, as well as making ideal gifts. And don't forget about candied flowers -- these delicacies will last for months.
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Cooking with Herbs
If you want to learn how to use culinary herbs, start simply by growing them. A bushy, fragrant herb plant just outside the kitchen door is the best inspiration for culinary success. If you've never used fresh herbs, start by following simple recipes that appeal to you. Most cookbooks offer a variety of dishes that require herbs for flavoring. Try something you've enjoyed in a restaurant but never made at home.
Another way to become familiar with herbs is to add them to foods you already make. Add snipped fresh herbs to scrambled eggs or omelets, trying a new herb each time. Or add them to bland foods, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese or rice. Once you've developed preferences for certain herbs, try combining them with other herbs in the same foods.
When using herbs, a little bit goes a long way. Culinary herbs should be used sparingly, to enhance the natural flavors of other ingredients in your recipes. Most herbs should be added at the end of the recipe. Their flavors are released with gentle heat, but are lost if cooked for longer than 30 minutes. An exception is bay, which stands up to a long stewing time. Herbs go just as well in cold foods. Add them to butter or sour cream and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. The addition of lemon juice or vinegar speeds up the development of the flavors. It's very important to wash and dry herbs thoroughly before using them in cooking. When using fresh herbs in recipes, save the leaves, flowers, stems or seeds. Snip the leaves with kitchen shears, or if you need larger quantities, bunch the leaves on a cutting board and mince the pile with a sharp knife. Food processors are useful for chopping large batches of herbs for recipes such as pesto or tabbouleh.
Many cooks rub fresh and dried herbs between their hands before adding them to the pot, because crushing the herbs releases their essential oils. If your recipe calls for a fine powder, grind dried herbs with a pestle and mortar, or purchase a special spice grinder. A coffee grinder works well, but be sure to wipe it clean carefully after use. Ground herbs should be used immediately for the best flavor. You can freeze the leftovers in airtight containers or plastic bags.
Using Fresh Herbs
You can substitute fresh for dried herbs in most recipes. Since fresh herbs contain more water than dried ones, use two to three times more fresh herbs than the dried measurement to get the same amount of essential oil.
Fresh herbs are great salad additions. Add chopped or whole sprigs of basil, chervil, chives, dill, oregano, thyme, tarragon or whatever flavors or blends you enjoy. Use herb blossoms from chives, borage and nasturtium to garnish the finished salad. Or use fresh herb eaves, such as nasturtiums, as a wrapping for pate or softened cream cheese, rolled into bundles.