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Posts from the ‘Herbs and Spices’ Category

Herbs and Spices: Preservation

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If your garden herbs are growing out of control or you don’t know what to do with the big bunch of herbs you bought at the farmers market, it’s time to extend their use with proper storage.  Fresh herbs can be kept in the fridge by placing their stems in a glass filled with a small amount of water and an unsealed plastic bag over the top (asparagus should also be kept this way).  If after two weeks you still have unused herbs you have two options:

Option 1: Freezing

This method works best for soft-leaf herbs such as basil, dill, parsley and chives.  Leaves and stems can be placed in a plastic bag (squeeze out the air!), and then kept in the freezer for up to six months.  Defrosting is unnecessary before using, but the leaves may lose some of their integrity, so it’s best to use them in mixed dishes.  Leafy herbs can also be placed in ice cube trays, covered with water and frozen.  It’s easy to season a winter soup by tossing a few cubes into your pot.

Option 2: Drying

This method works particularly well with hardier herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary and bay leaves. Simply wash the herbs, dry them off, and then hang them upside down until they are dried out.  Remove the leaves and keep in a tightly sealed bag or jar for up to one year. Another method of drying includes microwaving the herbs for 30 seconds at a time until crisp.  According to Bon Appetit magazine, you shouldn’t have to microwave them for more than 2-3 minutes total.

If you like kitchen gadgets you can try the Prepara Herb-Savor.  I can’t vouch for it, but it looks like it should work because the herbs are sitting in water and are covered by the plastic top.  All of these methods will help you enjoy summer-fresh herbs all year long!

In Season: Tomatoes and Basil

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Few things say summer like farm fresh tomatoes. From beefsteak to cherry, grape, heirloom and plum varieties, farmers markets are overflowing with choices.   It’s tough choosing a favorite, but if I have to pick one, it’s the sungold variety pictured.  A warm, sweet sungold perfectly captures the season in one bite.  Look for tomatoes that are richly colored and resist the temptation to put them in the refrigerator with the rest of your produce.  Tomatoes are sensitive to cold and it may dull their flavor.  Keep them on the counter and only put them in the fridge if they begin to get overripe.

Tomatoes are known for the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to a possible reduction in the risk of colon and prostate cancers. One cup of tomatoes is also a good source of vitamins A, C and K as well as fiber, potassium, folate and even some iron. Tomatoes may also help reduce the risk for heart disease.

While tomatoes are typically associated with Italian food, they actually have roots in South America and Mexico.  Tomato seeds were brought to Europe by the Spanish explorers and then brought to America with the colonists.  Tomatoes were originally thought to be poisonous because they are members of the Nightshade family.  As we know, tomatoes themselves aren’t poisonous, but their leaves contain alkaloids and are toxic.

Basil, a quintessentially Italian herb, is also at its summer peak.  There are many varieties of basil, including Thai, purple and Lemon. This herb is high in vitamin K and contains essential oils that are thought to have anti-bacterial properties.  It is a good source of Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant, and contains magnesium, which benefits heart health by helping blood vessels relax. Along with these nutrients, basil is also a source of vitamin C, iron and calcium. Store basil for up to 4 days in the refrigerator by wrapping the leaves in damp paper towels and placing them in a plastic bag. Don’t wash the leaves until you are ready to use them!

Of course there is an abundance of summer recipes that use tomatoes, basil and tomatoes and basil together.  Some favorites are below:

Insalata Caprese – The classic tomato, basil combination with mozzarella cheese and a touch of oilve oil

Bruschetta – This tomato and basil combination is a perfect appetizer.  This recipe calls for roasting the tomatoes, but they would also be delicious raw.

Gazpacho – a cold, refreshing, tomato based soup to cool you down in this hot weather

Pesto – This well known classic is simple to make.  For a change, consider combining the basil with other herbs such as parsley or tarragon (this recipe uses the pesto, but feel free to use it on anything!)

What are some of your favorite tomato and/or basil recipes?

Healthy Seasoning: Salt Free Flavors

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With a wave of low sodium foods hitting the stores these days, there’s never been an easier time to start cutting back on the sodium in your diet. From low sodium soup, to cheese and even bacon, many foods have a low sodium option.  Sodium is a component of salt, which is a sodium and chloride compound.

With cooking, herbs and spices are key to creating bold flavors that won’t leave you longing for salt. Keep in mind that spices with the word salt, such as onion salt, garlic salt or celery salt, all contain sodium.  On the other hand, garlic powder and onion powder do not contain salt or sodium.  Look for salt free seasoning blends such as Mrs. Dash for quick sodium-free options.

When you’re looking for new flavors with your favorite foods keep these pairings in mind:

Chicken

  • Basil
  • Ginger
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Also think about cranberries, mango and pineapple salsas

Fish

  • Basil
  • Curry
  • Dill
  • Dry Mustard
  • Lemon Juice
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
  • Pepper (ground or fresh)

Beef

  • Basil
  • Curry
  • Garlic or garlic powder
  • Onions or onion powder
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Sage

Vegetables

  • Basil
  • Curry
  • Dill
  • Garlic or garlic powder
  • Lemon Juice
  • Nutmeg
  • Onions or onion powder
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Are you making eggs for breakfast?  It’s the perfect place to put any combination of fresh or dried herbs.  If you’re substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe use 1/3 of the amount the recipe calls for as the flavor is more concentrated.

Get creative and try herbs you’ve never heard of!  You’re likely to come up with a new favorite dish and relegate salt to the back of your cabinet!

Herbs & Spices: Cinnamon

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Everyone knows it, and everyone I know loves it.  In ancient Egypt it was considered more valuable than gold, and today cinnamon evokes thoughts of warm, comforting meals.  It’s no coincidence that Traditional Chinese Medicine promotes using cinnamon to warm the body when faced with a cold.

Cinnamon is the bark of the cinnamon tree and there are two types: Cassia, the Chinese version, and Ceylon, which is a little sweeter.  Both are sold as cinnamon, but may be labeled separately in a specialty store.  Many of cinnamon’s health benefits are attributed to its essential oils, but there are some nutrients too.  2 teaspoons of cinnamon contain 35% of the daily value of manganese (an enzyme activator that helps your body utilize nutrients) and 10% of fiber and iron.  It also contains some calcium and antioxidants.  While the stick version may stay fresh longer, both the ground and stick versions contain the same nutrients.  As long as your cinnamon smells sweet before you use it you know it’s still fresh.

Some studies have shown that cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.  In a study using rice pudding, it was concluded that the cinnamon delayed stomach emptying and reduced blood sugar levels. Further studies are being done to replicate these findings and determine if cinnamon helps our bodies utilize insulin more effectively.

If you need yet another great reason to add this delicious spice to your meals, research has also shown that the smell of cinnamon is energizing.  Using cinnamon as part of spice rubs for meat and poultry gives an incredible depth of flavor to the dish.

Try these easy ideas to incorporate cinnamon into your daily repertoire:

Add to oatmeal, cereal or pancake batter

Stir into plain yogurt

Use it to flavor sweet potatoes, acorn squash or carrots

Stir 1/2 -1 teaspoon into your coffee, latte or hot chocolate

Use a dash or two in your favorite smoothie

Recipes:

Fish Tagine with Tomatoes, Capers and Cinnamon

Lamb and Mint Meatballs with Farro Risotto and Cilantro Pesto

Banana-Cinnamon Waffles

Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake