Guest blog post by Darcy Maulsby
“Smell your hands.” Yep, that’s something you don’t hear every day, yet it’s perfectly normal—and irresistible—during one of Mary Lovstad’s “Cooking with Herbs” classes at Enchanted Acres near Sheffield, Iowa.
First there was the pungent, spicy aroma of sage, followed by the more delicate, earthy nuances of thyme. All fresh, and all waiting to be transformed into herb butters, salt/herb mixes that save summer in a jar, and turkey brine mixes that will be big timesavers in the kitchen, now that the countdown to the holidays has begun.
As we snipped, chopped and mixed herbs of all types, mainly ones that can grow well in Iowa, I was reminded that herbs are bright, bold and borderline intoxicating. “I love how my hands smell when I’m working with fresh herbs,” said Lovstad, who worked in information technology, including a stint as a software quality engineer, before devoting herself to a new business—Farm Girl Cook’n.
Her farm-to-table workshops demystify many of the questions a lot of us have about herbs. Sure, you probably know that fresh herbs aren’t just for gourmet chefs, but working with herbs can be intimidating. How do I actually work with fresh herbs? Which herbs pair with which types of food? When do I add herbs during the cooking process?
Here are some of Lovstad’s top tips and tricks to help transform every meal into something special.
- Dry herbs with a kitchen gadget you already have. Drying fresh herbs is simple when you use your microwave. Place herbs on a plate covered with a paper towel, and microwave them for 30 seconds at a time, until they seem dry enough.
- Keep them fresh. If you’d rather work with fresh herbs than dried herbs, but you don’t have time to harvest them constantly, fresh-cut herbs can be kept in a container partially filled with fresh water, much like cut flowers in a vase. Trim the bottom edges of the herbs’ stems so they can take up water, and replace the water with fresh water, as needed. “I’ve kept herbs for two or three weeks this way,” said Lovstad, a former community college instructor who shares many of her favorite recipes on her blog at http://www.farmgirlcookn.com/.
- Know your measurements. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll need twice as many fresh herbs as dried herbs in a recipe. If you’re making a soup, for example, and the recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried thyme, use 2 tablespoons if you’re working with fresh thyme.
- Don’t hang on too long. Herbs and spices tend to lose their magic after a year. If you’ve kept dried herbs longer than that, it’s probably time to discard them and get a fresh supply.
Knowing how to use fresh herbs is a surefire way to take your dishes to the next level. That includes mixing fresh herbs with coarse salt (and perhaps a healthy shot of garlic). Once you save summer in a jar, voila! Your friends and family will classify YOU as the gourmet chef.
Save Summer in a Jar Herb-Salt Mix
- cups of loosely packed herbs before chopping (parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme)
- ½ cup coarse salt — sea, kosher, etc.
- to 5 cloves of garlic
1. Wash herbs and air dry on towel.
2. Clean garlic cloves, slice off ends and chop each into 2 to 4 pieces.
3. You can use a food processor at this point, if you like, or a good knife and cutting board.
4. With a food processor, add salt and garlic pulse several times taking care not to turn it into a paste. Add herbs and pulse several times.
5. Pour your salt into a pile, add the garlic and cut the garlic into the salt. Add the herbs and continue to chop until you get it all blended.
Note: salt will help the drying process. You can spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet and leave it by the window for a couple of days, or if you have a gas oven you can set it in the off oven and the pilot light is enough to dry it in a day or two.
6. Seal in a good jar, and enjoy for up to a year.
Make it better with herb butter
Julia Child noted that anything is good with enough butter. Truth!
There’s nothing like a pat of herb-infused butter melted over a grilled steak, fresh corn on the cob, or mixed in with a bowl of steamed vegetables. Herb butter also makes the foundation for a quick pan sauce. Saute two chicken breasts, Lovstad advised. deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of white wine. Reduce, and add a pat of herb butter. At the end and you will get a delicious sauce. Simple, right?
Making herb butter couldn’t be easier. Just gather your supplies, namely butter, herbs and ice cube trays. (Pampered Chef herb trays work well for freezing, since their flexible bottoms make it a snap to pop the frozen pats of herb butter out.)
- 1 stick of real butter, softened
- ¼ cup of finely chopped herbs (rosemary, sage and/or thyme work well)
- By hand, beat butter until soft, gently fold in herbs.
- Put into ice tray and freeze.
- Store in freezer until use.
- Add chopped herbs to softened butter and fold gently.
- Fill wells in herb tray with softened herb butter mixture. Smooth off top and edges. Cover and freeze.
- Remove butter pats from ice cube tray, and store in freezer safe bag or container.
So see? Making herb butter is as easy as 1-2-3!
How to Brine a Turkey
2 gallons of cold water (or 1 gallon of vegetable stock, 1 gallon water)
- Combine your brine mix and about a quart of your liquid in a sauce pan on the stove. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool completely.
- In a large, food grade container (such as a 5-gallon food-grade bucket with lid), combine cooled brine liquid, water and several handfuls of ice.
- Place the whole fresh or thawed turkey (10 to 14 pounds) into the brine mixture, and completely submerge. Add more salt water, if necessary.
- Refrigerate for 8 to 16 hours. Turn turkey once if you get a chance, but you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to do it. It will be fine.
- Remove turkey, and rinse inside and out with cool running water for several minutes to remove all traces of salt.
- Pat dry with paper towels.
- Discard brine.