Tag Archives: winter

Preserving and using your herbs – and a great pesto recipe

The end of summer means the end of an herb garden is near.

Depending on the weather, you may have several weeks to harvest fresh herbs, but I like to start cutting my plants back now and preserving as many as possible for winter.

If you have a sunny spot in the house, you can bring in oregano, rosemary, and lavender which will usually survive for several months inside. I’ve had mixed luck with basil but it’s worth a try.

Some herbs like rosemary and thyme are easy to dry, while others like cilantro and basil, do not dry well. This week, I have a lot of suggestions on which herbs to dry, freeze or use now (and a great pesto recipe to use up that basil).

First, let’s talk about basil, which is the most commonly grown herb. There’s nothing like fresh basil, but that flavor is hard to capture.  The best way to preserve basil is to make pesto and freeze it.

I recommend buying mini plastic storage containers to freeze basil in smaller portions (about ½ to 1 cup at a time). My husband is a teacher and one of his co-workers, Janice Queen, makes amazing pesto. I asked her to share her recipe. Something I really like about this recipe is it calls for almonds, as well as pine nuts (pine nuts are very expensive, so this is a more economical recipe).  The recipe also calls for a good dose of parsley, which is nice if you’re growing that, too.

Pesto is versatile: use it as a salad dressing, toss it with pasta and fresh tomatoes, or pour it over a block of cream cheese for a quick dip (serve with crackers and French bread).

Herb butters are another wonderful way to use up herbs, particularly rosemary and basil.  All you have to do is soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped basil or 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary. Then spread it on a slice of French bread.  It’s marvelous and an easy and inexpensive addition to a party. You can also add 1 tablespoon finely minced sundried tomatoes to the butter.

If I am serving it at a party, I serve it at room temperature, but if you want herb butter for your family, mold the butter back into a log, place it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for several days (rosemary butter will last longer than basil).

If you have leftover herb butter, use it in pasta, on vegetables, or spread a pat on a steak.

Another idea to use either fresh or dried herbs is to sprinkle herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary or a combination are my favorites) on a mix of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a quick bread dip. You can use that recipe to marinate vegetables that you’re going to grill, too. Be sure to add salt to both dishes though.

Ok, now we’ve used fresh herbs, let’s talk about drying herbs.

Before you dry any herb, you want to rinse it gently and pat it dry with a paper towel. Only dry herbs that are in perfect condition, and discard any that are wilted or changing colors.

Certain herbs, like thyme and rosemary, dry beautifully. To dry these herbs all you have to do is cut off the stems, lay them on a piece of parchment paper on a pan and let it rest for about 7 days. After that, pull the leaves off and place in a spice jar away from sunlight or heat.

dried rosemary

I dry my rosemary and buy pretty glass jars and give it away at Christmas. Also, you can use dried rosemary to make an herb butter which is excellent on rolls or whipped into mashed potatoes and makes a good hostess gift.

Mint and oregano have a slightly higher moisture content and are better dried after you pick the leaves off the plant. Don’t let the leaves touch each other as this may increase the chance of the herbs molding before they have a chance to dry. Place the leaves on a paper towel on a baking sheet and cover with another paper towel.  Place them in an oven for 24-48 hours (turn on the light in the oven, not the heat). Leaves are ready when they crumble in your hand.

My favorite thing to do with cilantro is let it go to seed and then collect those seeds which are coriander seeds (and those are expensive in the store). Coriander seeds have great flavor. Another option though is to chop cilantro, place nearly 1 tablespoon in an ice cube tray and fill it with water. Freeze. This retains some of the original cilantro flavor, but will still not be the same.

Hopefully this will help you enjoy the last weeks of your herb garden and stretch that flavor into winter.

Easy Pesto

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or a combination (I usually use almonds)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 cups fresh basil, no stems

3/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Salt to taste

In a food processor, combine the oil, garlic, almonds and Parmesan cheese. Then, feed in the herbs and blend until combined.   It is so easy and freezes very well.

Recipe was originally adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.

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Chicken Pot Pie with Refrigerator Biscuits

Chicken Pot Pie with Refrigerator Biscuits

My drop biscuit chicken pot pie is a favorite in our house. It’s totally comforting with warm biscuits baked on top to soak up the juices in the dish. I use the refrigerator biscuits on top, so that saves time.

It’s packed with vegetables and I use whole milk instead of cream, to lighten it up. A dash of thyme and bay leaves lifts the flavor in this dish.

It’s a simple recipe, but will take longer than my usual recipes because you have to bake it for 15-20 minutes. But hey, I find that’s the perfect time to clean up and set the table.

Chicken Pot Pie

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion

2 cups chopped celery

2 tablespoons flour

2 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon thyme leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ cups chicken stock

3 cups whole milk

1 ½ cups frozen peas and carrots

4 cups chopped rotisserie chicken meat

2 packages small refrigerated biscuits

This makes a large batch, but you could halve the recipe and make it in an 8 x8 dish. If you’re a family, you will want the larger version because it’s delicious and you will probably eat more than you expect. This is the quintessential winter dish—down home and comforting. It’s a great recipe to make on a Sunday night.

Chop all ingredients and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, celery, flour, bay leaves, thyme and cook for 5-7 minutes. Stir to be sure the flour doesn’t burn. Then add a dash of salt and pepper.

Add chicken broth, milk, peas and carrots and cook 7 more minutes, stirring frequently. The sauce should be thickening. Add your chicken and cook about 3 more minutes.

If sauce is not thickening to your likening, remove ½ cup of liquid and whisk in 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Then whisk that back into the mix and turn heat up slightly. It will thicken. Keep in mind though, this is meant to be slightly soupy so that you can soak it up with the biscuits on top.

pot pie prei

When done, pour into a 13 x 11 baking dish. Topwith 15-20 refrigerator biscuits (these are the small ones). Bake for 15-20 minutes, until biscuits are golden.

Serve. Here’s a close up of the buttery goodness.

pot pie

Light version of Chicken, Corn Chowder

I am looking out the window and it’s gray outside today and going to snow later. What a perfect day for chowder. I adore this version of my chowder because it’s light. I use milk instead of heavy cream. It’s chicken, corn and potato. My daughter and husband both love it.

Light Chicken, Corn Chowder

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large yellow onion

3 stalks celery

1 heaping tablespoon flour

1 large Russet potato

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

2 cups whole milk

1 can creamed corn

1 can corn

2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken breast

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop onion, celery, potato and set aside.  I don’t peel the potato.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large pot over medium heat. When hot, add onions and celery and cook 2 minutes. Then add flour and cook 5 minutes. Add potato, salt, stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to strong simmer and add milk and corn and cook about 12 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Add chicken at the last minute just to heat through.

The vegetables should still be slightly crunchy. This lighter version of chowder uses milk instead of half and half or cream but it’s still packed with flavor.  It’s an excellent soup and easy to make.