Just back inside from cleaning out the herb garden for the upcoming growing season. The chives are already 10 inches high and it’s only the first day of Spring! The Greek Oregano is perennial and it looks like it will come back again this year. The Garlic Chives are only about 4 inches high, but are looking good. The potted thyme plant was a little overgrown last season and the winter took a lot it. Had to cut it back severely, but it will definitely grow again. Some of what I cut off still had some nice green leaves, so I’ll wash it and put it in fridge. I see some Chicken with thyme in my near future. The two rosemary plants are still alive, so they got a nice haircut too giving me several branches of fresh rosemary to use or dry.
Let’s see ….. what else? Oh! My beautiful mint plant has died! I kept it in a container in the center of the garden, but either the winter took it this year, or it was just plain pot bound. I think it was the latter. I’ll get a new one and put it in a bigger pot. Must have mint. No mint – no mojitos!!
I also lost my potted lemon thyme.Not only is it a pretty little plant, it has a very distinct lemony scent that’s hard to resist so I’ll have to replace that as well.
The Herb Garden isn’t very big. I have it on the sunny side of the house and didn’t make it too wide because it’s right there where there is sometimes a lot of foot traffic. It may not be very big, but I get more herbs than I can use. I dry everything I can't use and seal it in vacuum food storage bags. I could never use it all before it loses its flavor. What I usually, have: just two parsley plants, one thyme, 2 chives, 1 garlic chive, 2 rosemary, 1 mint, sometimes a tarragon plant, sometimes an extra lemon thyme. The Greek Oregano started out as two small plant
s, and I didn’t realize how much it would spread. It’s like a ground cover, so I have to work fairly hard to keep in under control. But I wouldn’t give it up. It’s one of my favorite herbs and it’s really pretty too. I use as much fresh as I can all during the growing season, and then dry the rest to use all winter.
Because I live near farmland, we have a LOT of grasshoppers and other bugs. As you can see in this picture, I have to keep my basil plants in a cage to keep them from being munched down to the stems. Two years ago, I had no basil. It was like the earth stood still when I went outside to water and saw nothing but stems on my three basil plants. The cage not only protects them from being eaten, but they also benefit from the light shade the screen material provides.
I also grow Nasturtiums in a container, and a few pansies on the front porch because they are edible! Even if you don’t want to eat them, they are beautiful food safe garnishes. I use a big purple pansy with a long stem on it to garnish a pina colada - it's beautiful! Other edibles are carnations, roses, marigolds and violets. Try some of these in a salad. Most of them have a bit of a peppery flavor.
Since this isn’t a gardening blog, why don’t I get to some of my favorite ways to use herbs.
Up until about 10 years ago I never used herbs or spices. I didn’t know how to use them mostly because I didn’t know what they tasted like. So when Food TV came into my life it was the beginning of being a better cook. I still talk to people sometimes who tell me they have never used or tasted basil or rosemary.
Take chicken for example. Put some salt and pepper on a chicken and toss it in the oven and you’ve got dinner. Not bad either! But add some rosemary and garlic or thyme and lemon and you have an aromatic, succulent piece of chicken like you’ve never had before. I suppose it’s possible there are some people to don’t care for basil, or rosemary, of any other herb for that matter, but I can’t imagine this!
One of the simplest and most delicious things you can do with herbs:
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Preheat oven to 350
6 redskin potatoes (any kind will do, but these work really well.
2 T Olive Oil
1 T Rosemary
1 t. garlic powder
1 t salt
(This is not my photo)
Cut the potatoes into bite size chunks. If you are using those little red potatoes, then you can leave them whole, or cut the larger ones in half. Wash them well after cutting them and drain them on a towel so they are mostly dry.
Now put them into a bowl along with all the other ingredients. Mix well to coat thoroughly. Place them on a cookie sheet lines wit
h foil, or into a 9 x 12 baking pan lined with foil. Bake them until they are fork tender and lightly browned, about 20 – 25 minutes.
Just as simple:
Garlic Bread with Herbs
Turn the broiler on high.
1 loaf good Italian bread, or a French loaf will do just fine. Frankly, this would be good on hamburger buns!
½ stick softened butter
2 t garlic salt (or 2 cloves fresh garlic finely minced)
1 T dried basil, dried oregano, or dried thyme, or a little of each
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cut the loaf in half length wise and spread both sides. Wrap the loaf in foil and bake for 15 minutes.
Alternately, slice the bread and spread each slice with the compound butter. You can top these with a little Parmesan now if you like. Place the slices on a cookie sheet. Broil until brown. DON’T WALK AWAY FROM THIS! Watch them get brown or they will burn before you even know what happened.
Experiment with different kinds of herbs on this bread. It’s a good way to find out what kind of herbs you like. Rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, even tarragon if you like it, would be delicious on this. As it happens
all of these taste great together in a compound butter (except the tarragon).
Tomato, Onion and Herb Salad
3 large tomatoes, cut into big chunks
2 cloves minced garlic
1 t. kosher salt
½ red onion, sliced very thin
5 or6 fresh basil leaves, minced (or 1 T dried basil leaves)
1 T Olive Oil
2 T Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh ground pepper
Mix everything together. Let sit in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
Lemon Thyme Butter
½ stick butter, melted
2 T fresh lemon thyme
Add lemon thyme to melted butter and let sit for 5 minutes to absorb the flavor. Drizzle some over a piece of cod that’s been sautéed in a skillet with a little olive oil. Salt, pepper.
Or toss some cooked shrimp with a little of this thyme butter. It would even be good drizzled on breast of chicken.You don’t need a lot of this on anything, a little goes a long way. But go ahead and enjoy as much as you like! Only you can control the calories you eat!
Here are a bunch of ideas on how to use herbs. If you want a recipe for anything I mention, just let me know, I’ll send one!
Stuffed peppers – I was amazed at how good it was!
Scrambled eggs add 1 t dried to 3 eggs.
Add a little dried thyme to your biscuit mix or corn muffin mix.
Thyme is wonderful in Lentil Soup or Stew!
Try it in white bean dip with a little red pepper flakes
Fresh whole leaves in salads
Fresh whole leaves on a chicken sandwich with avocado and mayo
Top a pizza with fresh leaves that are cut into little strips.
Toss a big handful into your pot of tomato sauce
Use some dried basil and sun dried tomatoes to flavor home made bread dough
Top a pizza crust, or French load with mozzarella, basil, garlic and olive oil, broil to golden.
Toss into tomato sauce
Top a pizza
Use in a Greek Salad that has olives, feta cheese
Make a marinade for a London Broil using oregano, garlic, pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Good with seafood, chicken and eggs. Add just a very small amount of tarragon or it will overpower anything you use it in. Great in Chicken Salad, Seafood Soups, Souffles, Shrimp Quiche, Scrambled Eggs.
Make a little of this to keep on hand:
½ c Coarse Sea Salt
2 T fresh rosemary leaves
Put into your spice grinder and whiz until the rosemary is evenly distributed. Be careful not to turn the salt into powder. Sprinkle this on chops, steaks, or lamb before cooking.
Roasted Rosemary Chicken
1 whole roasting chicken (you can use Cornish Hens if you like – you know, those little tiny chickens)
about 1 T of kosher salt
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, finely chopped, or about 3 t. of dried
4 T butter, room temp
Preheat the over to 350
In a small bowl, add the salt and the rosemary to the butter and mix it well to make what is called a compound butter.
Use the handle of a wooden spoon and insert it at the neck part to get under the skin on the breast. Move the handle around underneath the skin of the breast on each side, going in as far as you can. Once the skin is loose, take about 1 Tbs of the butter mixture and shove it in there, doing the same on both sides.
Now use a knife and make a little cut down at the “ankle” of the drumstick and insert the wooden spoon handle again to loosen the skin. Put a little butter under there on both legs. Do the same at the thigh area, making a small cut at what might be the knee” of the leg. Loosen the skin on the thigh as much as you can and add some of the butter under the skin, doing this on both legs. If you have a little of the compound butter left, smear it all over the outside of the bird. Sprinkle a little pepper on the bird too.
Alternately, you could just rub the outside of the chicken with the compound butter and forget about under the skin. It’ll be very tasty, but the meat is definitely more tender and juicy if you use the under the skin method. This is a pretty messy process, but I guarantee it's worth it.
Now put the chicken into a roaster, preferably on a rack that’s been placed in the bottom. Tie the legs together to keep them from cooking too fast and browning too much. If you don't have any twine, try this little trick. Take a piece of foil and twist it into a rope. Wrap it around the legs and tuck it tightly - it will work beautifully!
Depending on the size of your bird, roast the chicken for 1 – 2 hours. You can tell the chicken is done when the juices run clear (not reddish). Or when you think it should be done, you can take a pair of tongs and gently grab a drumstick. If you can see that it is ready to come away from the bird with just a little effort, the chicken is done.
Just follow the directions on the packaging and you should be fine.
Let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes before you slice it so all the juices won’t run right out of the meat.
There are so many uses for herbs it would take a whole cookbook to cover them all. You can even use herbs in cookies! Lemon thyme cookies are scrumptious! Basil Orange cookies, mint brownies, lavender tea cookies, and even Earl Grey Tea Cookies. Maybe tea isn’t an herb – it’s debatable, but these are really good!
Lastly, if any of my local friends want to try some dried herbs, I have lots of rosemary, thyme and oregano. Let me know if you want to try something and I’ll send you a recipe and some herbs.