Thursday, June 17, 2010

Using and Preserving Summer Herbs: Our Upcoming Herb Series

If there's something we're passionate about over here at Burp! it's flavor.  You won't find much that's bland or boring here. And we're always looking for ways to kick things up a notch -- whether it's through the discovery of a new flavor combination, technique, or ingredient.

Along those lines, one thing I can't imagine doing without in the kitchen is fresh herbs. Whether it's using them to pull together a quick and flavorful pistou to use for roasting chicken, adding them to a marinade, making yogurt sauce for summer grilling, or whipping up a fresh cool batch of mint ice cream, fresh herbs can make all the difference between drab... and fab.

Needless to say, although our urban garden isn't very large, we're always certain to make room for herbs. We have a number of perennial herbs (thyme, tarragon, oregano, lavendar, and winter savory) growing in herb beds alongside the house. But, we also plant plenty of annuals and tender perennials like basil, rosemary, marjoram, parsley, and lemon verbena.  We plant some between the peppers in our vegetable bed, and we sprinkle a few others among the flowers in the pots on our porch.  And when wintertime comes, we make a grand effort to bring some of our favorite herbs inside and keep them alive during the long Wisconsin winter.

But, I can buy herbs in the store. Why would I want to grow my own? you might say.  Well, here's a few reasons every cook should have a kitchen herb garden.
  1. It's convenient.   How many times have you had to run out to the store to grab one of those little plastic boxes of fresh basil?  How much time did it take you?  Just imagine the time you'd save if you could pluck a few sprigs of basil from a pot right outside your kitchen door.
  2. It will save you money.  You spend at least $2 on that little plastic box of basil from the store. You can probably buy a whole basil plant for that price, or slightly more.  Buy two or three plants and you'll have enough basil for an entire summer of pesto and marinara sauce.
  3. They're good for you.  Both fresh and dried herbs contain incredible amounts of antioxidants. And research has shown that antioxidants may slow or prevent the development of some cancers, among other diseases.
  4. Your herbs are ultra fresh -- and you know where they've been. Herbs begin to lose their vitality within a short time after they are picked. So, herbs you pick yourself are at the peak of freshness. In addition, you know that the herbs you pick out of your yard haven't been treated with pesticides or chemicals. They haven't spent hours in the back of a truck, been dropped, mishandled, or otherwise abused.
  5. It's good for the environment. Gardening automatically reduces your carbon footprint. You're no longer relying on the resources (manpower, fuel, manufacturing, transportation) it took to move those herbs from the farm to your grocery store. And you're not paying a premium to cover the cost of loss on the herbs which, if they are not purchased, are thrown away.
  6. You can grow really cool varieties of common herbs.  Opal basil, Thai basil, lemon or lime thyme, chocolate mint, lemon verbena -- the possibilities are endless when you're the gardener.  And the more herbs you have at your disposal, the more creative you can be with your cooking.

Alright, so you've decided to grow a few herbs. Or maybe you have an herb garden that you'd like to expand. Where should you start? Start by thinking about the kinds of foods you love to cook.
  • French and Mediterranean fare make use of herbs like basil, tarragon, marjoram, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. 
  • Italian cooking uses lots of basil, bay, Italian flat-leaf parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, and garlic.   
  • Asian cuisine makes good use of cilantro, chilies, chives, curry, lemongrass, and Thai basil.  
  • Mexican flavors include cilantro, savory, basil, rosemary, thyme, chiles and garlic. 
  • Authentic Indian cooking makes use of a wide variety of herbs, but some of the basics include basil, coriander, cumin, dill, parsley, mint, thyme, sage and savory. 


Join us this weekend and learn more about herbs!
We're very excited to be sharing some of our knowledge about the topics of both food blogging and herbs at this year's Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. The festival is a free community-wide event organized by the UW-Waukesha Foundation in cooperation with community groups that include the Waukesha County Federated Library System, the Waukesha Public Library, the Literacy Council of Greater Waukesha and Martha Merrell’s Bookstore.

We'll be participating in two different sessions:
  • A panel on "The Art of Blogging" at 4:00pm on Friday, June 18th.
  • A presentation on "Using and Preserving Summer Herbs" at 1:00pm on Saturday, June 19th
More than 100 authors of adult and children’s books will make presentations at the free public event that will have all the trappings of a festival – an exhibition of authors, publishers and books sellers, music and drama performances, a cook book stage featuring chef demonstrations, a children’s festival with children’s authors and activities, an art exhibit, food and entertainment.  Download the full schedule.

We're thrilled to be a part of this celebration of literacy and creativity -- and we'd love it if you could join us.  But, if you can't make it out for our presentation this weekend, we'd invite you to join us right here on the blog for an herb series that we'll be running every Friday throughout the summer.  Our hope is that we'll share recipes, techniques, and interesting tales that will get you thinking about how to make the most of fresh herbs in your kitchen.

What's your favorite way to use fresh herbs?


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12 comments:

  1. I was just saying how much I miss my fresh herbs. I HATE that I have to buy them now. Temporary...temporary... I used to pick basil leaves and rosemary from my garden and rub them all over my dogs faces - they smelled heavenly for the rest of the day ;-)

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  2. I'm so glad you are going to do a series on herbs. I have more herbs than anything else in my backyard garden. It is such a pleasure to go and pick just what you need for whatever you happen to be cooking that day. Plus I love to give bundles away to friends.
    Being that I do have more than I seem to use, I look forward to hearing more herby ideas you will share with us:)
    -E

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  3. Did you ever take a look at the book, The Flavor Bible? I know you would love it! I love having fresh herbs at the ready...my favorite thing has to be baking an egg in a shallow oven dish with a bit of butter, cream, garlic and then minced Rosemary, tarragon, basil and chives. The egg turns out soft and the herbs really shine! Look forward to your series, too!

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  4. Lori, it was an honor to share the stage with you and Paul Friday afternoon for the “Art of Blogging” panel at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I heard your Herb session on Saturday was a smash hit, too!

    After reading the comment above about baking an egg in a shallow dish, I have a Burp request. while other people who are blind *do* use the top of the stove to cook, I choose not to. I’m good with baking in the oven, and and am adept at baking bread. I stink at entrees, though. Can you suggest any recipes that are fancy enough to serve to guests but do not require the top of the stove at all? I don’t want to have to sauté anything before I put it in the casserole dish, or brown something before I stick it in the crock pot.

    No rush on this, just a curiosity, wonder what you two might come up with.

    Keep up the good work!

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  5. Hope the panel went well. Unfortunately we could not come.

    And with our first garden in the ground, we've already had several trips outside when we found we were short on flavor in cooking.

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  6. I do love growing my own herbs. It's convenient and it makes my balcony prettier. Sadly, I don't have space to grow too much. I grow thyme, sage, rosemary and basil. I've tried cilantro (fail) lavendar (never flowered) and apricot hyssop (never knew what do do with it)and decided to try tomatoes instead of a 5th herb. With all of hte rain we had last summer, my tomatoes weren't too successful, but I'm trying again this summer. I bought a plant that already had several good tomatoes growing on it! :-D

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  7. Hey, Lori and Paul. I attended the blogging panel, and thought it was a terrific, lively, entertaining presentation, as well as being informative. You are so passionate about food. I enjoyed the way you kept saying that you love good food and you love to eat. Yup, me too. I've had herbs in pots for the last several summers. Even my husband gets crazy-creative with them. He loves to grab handfuls of herbs and stuff them under the skin of a chicken, then cook it on our barbecue rotisserie.
    Now that I've found your blog, you can be sure I'll hang out here a bit.
    I had my own presentation, Freaks and Vampires. The audience was terrific.
    Did you go to the author reception? It was fabulous.f And the number of volunteers was incredible. Hope to see you back at the Festival next year! I missed your cooking demo, as I was "manning" the SCBWI booth during that time slot.
    Deborah Lynn Jacobs

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  8. Okay, so a random letter showed up in my post. Finger slippage...don't know how to fix it, sigh...
    Deb

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  9. I always grow chives, rosemary, tarragon, mint,
    basil, cilantro, flat leaf parsley, and dill.

    I love to use the chives, basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill in fresh salad dressings, especially homemade ranch.

    Cilantro in salsa, mint in almost any beverage (infused in simple syrup), and tarragon in snap pea potato salad.

    I'm so thrilled to find a list of WI food bloggers! I'm relatively new on the scene, and can't wait to see what everyone else is writing about.

    Anna

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  10. Deborah - So glad you enjoyed the blogger panel. It was a pleasure -- and I learned so much from Barbara and Beth in the process!

    Vampires and Freaks sounds right up my alley! Now I'm sorry that we missed YOUR presentation! We were able to stay only briefly at the reception, due to a prior commitment, but I was impressed with how lovely it was.

    Nonetheless -- welcome to Burp! We hope you enjoy your stay :)

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  11. YAY, I love herbs! Looking forward to your series!

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  12. I love growing my own herbs too! Last fall, I hung up some fresh herbs to dry by my kitchen window. It made a nice frangrant curtain :)

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We're thrilled that you came to visit us here at BURP! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. We're not always able to respond to every comment, but we'll make every effort to answer questions in a timely fashion. We especially enjoy reading about what's going on in your own creative kitchens. So, don't be shy!

And thanks for stopping by!