Monday, August 30, 2010

Herb Pastes and Pestos

Pesto is a concoction that most people know about and many people make and enjoy. I thought in these harvest days I would share a traditional pesto recipe and share some pesto storage and usage tips. But first I want to share something that is made similar to pesto but is much more versatile as well as an excellent way to preserve fresh herb tastes for cooking that is lost in other preservation methods -- Herb pastes.



Herb Paste

Start with clean dry herbs and sterile wide-mouth jars of several sizes. Recycled jars are fine and some can be as small as baby food. You use the same general proportions of herbs and oils used for pesto (1/3 cup oil to 2 cups fresh herbs). Place oil and herbs in a blender and chop until you have a smooth paste, scraping down the sides as needed until all the bits of herbs are coated with oil. Use as little oil as necessary to accomplish this. I usually hand chop the herbs with a chef knife before putting them in the blender to speed up the process. The best oils for a paste are the most bland, corn oil, safflower, sunflower rather than olive oil.

Place the mixture immediately into jars, stir to remove air bubbles. Drizzle enough oil on top to cover and seal the herbs. Then add a teaspoon of vinegar to the oil. If you are using a metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before screwing on the lid. Label and date. Refrigerate for use within a week or freeze for several months. Always keep open jars in the refrigerator.

How to use

An herb paste is a highly concentrated form of the herb and when using you should start with small amounts and gradually increase to get the flavor you want. They can be floated in soups, added to dressings for salads (the macerated herbs make the most flavor-filled dressings and vinaigrettes you can imagine.) You can also add the paste to sauces, gravies, and marinades. It can be a baste for meat and fish, used as a final added flavor over hot vegetables or even placed in your skillet to sauté meats or vegetables. You can even use basil paste to create a winter-time pesto.



Now let’s talk about Pesto

When making Pesto the herbs must be clean and DRY. The jars sterile and dry. And you must eliminate air bubbles in the finished pesto before storing to keep the color from turning. Then seal the jars with a layer of oil and vinegar.

Here is a traditional pesto recipe

This can be used on any pasta, but crinkly rotini (rotelle) is really good as it absorbs and holds the sauce so well.

6 Tbls. olive oil

3 Tbls. herbal vinegar (lemon, basil or garlic)

3 Tbls. pine nuts, blanched almonds or walnuts

2 large cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup oregano leaves

1/4 cup garlic chives, trimmed to 1-inch pieces (optional)

1 cup parmesan cheese (or 1/2 cup parm and 1/2 cup Romano)

1 pound cooked & drained pasta



Place items in a blender in this order: oil, herb vinegar, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper and cayenne. Add herbs, and then blend all together until smooth and creamy, wiping down the sides of the blender at least once with a rubber spatula. Pour mixture into a 3 cup bowl and stir in the cheese. Drain the pasta and immediately stir the pesto into it while it is still hot, then serve.

To freeze pesto

Pack the pesto down firmly in sterilized jars, getting rid of any air bubbles. Drizzle enough oil on top to cover and seal the herbs. Then add a teaspoon of vinegar to the oil. If you are using a metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before screwing on the lid. Label and date the jar, then freeze. Use the pesto within 3 to10 months.

And by the way, you can make a Basil Paste then freeze it and use it to create a basil pesto several months after the fresh harvest with minimal loss of flavor.



To learn more about the concept of herbal pastes check out these publications:

Southern Herb Growing by Madelene Hill and Gwen Barclay (Shearer Publishing, Fredericksburg, TX, 1987)

The Basil Book by Marilyn Hampstead

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Using Herbal Salt Substitutes

Sorry this is a day late, not as good with computers as I thought I was!


I am using this Blog to share my knowledge, ideas and especially my recipes for using herbs in your daily life.

So, as promised, here are a few great ways to use salt substitutes. If you missed the last blog, see the side bar for a link where we presented several easy-to-make and use Herbal Salt Substitutes.

Of course with a salt substitute you can add them any place you would normally use salt, but as herbal combinations they have a variety of other uses as well. When eliminating salt, one has to pay attention to places you use it and add to your daily consumption that can be eliminated. Simple things like tossing a pinch or two into spaghetti cooking water is an example. When you have salt substitutes on hand you can use these instead. Like any blend using oregano or basil can be the “salt” in your cooking water. Or if making Rice a bit of unsalted butter mixed with a dash of salt substitute can add a unique flavor to a sometimes plain side dish.

Using a salt substitute as a meat rub instead of salt and pepper can increase juiciness and cut down on sodium. For beef, mixes with garlic are good. For lamb, use those with rosemary or chives. For pork anything where spices prevail is perfect.

This simple recipe for herb butter is easy to adapt and use with salt substitutes and you can then put it on bread, vegetables, corn on the cob or enhance grilled fish.

Ingredients:

• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

• 1 tablespoons dried herb salt substitute blend, finely crumbled.

Preparation:

Place the butter in a small bowl. Add the herbs and mix together with a fork until the butter and herbs are well-combined.

Transfer the butter to a small ramekin to serve. If you prefer, cover and chill until firm. Butter may also be placed on wax or parchment paper, wrapped and shaped into a log, and frozen for later use.


Salt substitutes can also be used to create flavorful vinaigrettes to use on a green salad. The herb taste will transform any salad into something special. Don't be afraid to experiment, any herb-based salt substitute will work.

Ingredients:

• 1/2 shallot, minced

• 1 Tablespoon herb substitute blend of your choice

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (herb vinegars will work here too!)

• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation:

In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Gradually add the olive oil while whisking vigorously. Use within three days.

Now here are a few other formulated recipes for you to experiment with as well:

Grilled red potatoes

• 3 lbs. small red potatoes, washed and halved

• 3 TB. olive oil

• 1-2 tsp. any salt substitute, but one with garlic, onion or rosemary works best

Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with the SALT SUBSTITUTE. Mix to coat. Place in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes to soften slightly. OR, before seasoning, place the potatoes in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes to partially cook. Drain, oil and season. Once the potatoes are partially cooked, place in a grill basket or wrap in foil in a single layer and grill for 10-15 minutes, turning once. Serves: 6

Simple Cucumber Salad

• 3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

• 1 large yellow or sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced

• 1-2 tsp. Salt Substitute (those featuring tarragon, dill or chives work best)

• 1/4-1/2 tsp. Ground white pepper

Dressing:

• 1 part cider vinegar (1/4 Cup)

• 2 parts white sugar (1/2 Cup)

• 3 parts heavy cream or half & half (3/4 Cup)

Place the cucumbers and onion in a serving bowl. Add the herbs and pepper and toss to combine. In a separate bowl, mix together the cider vinegar, sugar, and cream and stir to combine. Add to the serving bowl and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, mixing occasionally to mingle the flavors. Serves: 4-6

Slow cooked Turkey

• 1 turkey breast (6-7 lbs.)

• 1 Cup apple cider

• 2 Bay leaves

• 2 Tbls Salt Substitute, those with parsley, sage, chives or thyme will all work with this recipe

• 1 1/2 tsp. Black pepper, use fresh cracked if you can

Wash and dry the turkey breast and place in a slow cooker. Pour the apple cider in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the BAY LEAVES. Combine the seasonings and rub over the top of the turkey breast. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the turkey breast is done, usually 4-5 hours. The resulting spicy juices are a great low-fat gravy to serve over mashed potatoes. Serves: 10.


Thanks for stopping by and if you have other tips for using a salt substitute, please share.

These recipes are just one aspect of the Backyard Patch. To read our herb research, or see a listing of our 200 + herbal blends for cooking, tea and bath, including salt substitutes visit the Backyard Patch on-line at http://www.backyardpatch.com/


Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

National More Herbs Less Salt Day!

I love herbs and cooking with herbs. I can spend hours in the herb room blending and mixing to create just the right flavor combination. Cooking with herbs is not the difficult or dangerous activity many people believe it is, in fact using them everyday is as easy as having a properly filled spice cabinet. Through the years I have made and marketed more than 100 different herbal blends and I am always looking for a new way to promote the use of herbs in everyday cooking.


Sunday will be National More Herbs, Less Salt Day.   In honor of this special day here are a few herbal salt subtitutes you can create to use on this auspicious day!

The good news is, using less salt helps with cholesteral and blood pressure lowering as well as reducing water retention and can in many ways inprove your skin.  So why not try these flavor-filled treats and help yourself at the same time.  Tomorrow I will give you a few recipes to go with these blends.

Oniony Salt Substitute
(Onion gives you the taste you are looking for without the salt so you can fool your tastebuds.)

6 teaspoons onion powder


3 tablespoons paprika

3 tablespoons poultry seasoning

2 teaspoons ground oregano

2 teaspoons white pepper

2 tablespoons mustard powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder


Zesty Herbal Salt Substitute

3 tablespoons dried oregano


3 tablespoons garlic powder

1 ½ tablespoons paprika

1 ½ tablespoons mustard powder

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon ground dill seed or 1 tsp. dill weed

This one is good run through a blender or grinder before sprinkling on foods.

These recipes are just one aspect of the Backyard Patch. To read our herb research, or see a listing of our 200 +  herbal blends for cooking, tea and bath, including salt substitutes visit the Backyard Patch on-line at http://www.backyardpatch.com/
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