Wednesday, June 10, 2015

8 Herbs and Spices for Herb and Spice Day with recipes

My long held belief that cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to add new life to any dish, is finally gaining ground. In fact we now have a national day to celebrate Herbs and Spices. Today, June 10, is National Herbs and Spices Day, the perfect time for me to advocate the growing and using of herbs and spices.

I have been telling people in lectures and programs that a hint of herbs or the flavor of spices will make someone’s feel more satisfied with less food.

I stumbled over a recent study funded by the McCormick Science Institute found that replacing sodium with other seasonings is much more effective than trying to cut out salt by willpower alone. Participants in a trial were able to reduce sodium intake by nearly 1,000 milligrams per day if they substituted different spices. No specific type was studied, but simply adding flavor alternatives allowed people to cut back on salt without sacrificing taste, making it easier to stick to their diets.

A similar study from the University of Colorado used herbs and spices to fix up low-fat meals. Volunteers rated the low-fat but high-flavor meals about as highly as the full-fat varieties. Interestingly, they did not enjoy individual pieces of the meal as much, but taken as a whole they were still satisfied. These studies show that seasoning can make food as appealing as more decadent ingredients, without the added guilt.

So today I am sharing  8 of my favorite herbs and spices each with a recipe you can enjoy this summer.

Rosemary – a great roasting herb, this time of year rosemary is gentler with a lot of green growth, and older plants are in need of trimming which can be used to make flavored smoke on the grill. Rosemary is a woody herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves that are very aromatic and has a faintly lemony piney scent. The fresh and dried leaves are used in meat dishes and also sauces and frequently found in traditional Mediterranean cuisine; they have a bitter, astringent taste, which
complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane can also be made from them. When burned they give off a distinct mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning which can be used to flavor foods while barbecuing. Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6. Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary if pregnant or breastfeeding. Delicious in lamb dishes, in soups, stews and to sprinkle on beef before roasting.

Rosemary Lemonade
Lemons, sliced

A few sprigs of woody-piney rosemary highlight a pitcher of regular spiked lemonade with the enchanting scent of the forest. Steep rosemary in lemonade spiked with gin to make this gorgeous beverage. It's a simple, straightforward crowd-pleaser that's low on kitchen time and still high on the wow factor. Serve garnished with sliced lemon and a rosemary sprig to use as a stirrer. 

Cilantro – An herb that is also a spice.  Once spicy flavored cilantro it makes seed the seed is known as coriander, a spice.  This time of year the cilantro is growing bushy and is perfect for making a fresh salsa. Coriander is probably one of the first spices used by mankind, having been known as early as 5000 BC. The Romans spread it throughout Europe and it was one of the first spices to arrive in America.  Coriander is not interchangeable with cilantro, although they are from the same
plant. Ground Coriander seed is traditional in desserts and sweet pastries as well as in curries, meat, and seafood dishes with South American, Indian, Mediterranean, and African origins. Add it to stews and marinades for a Mediterranean flavor.  Available whole or ground, this warm, aromatic spice is delicious with most meats, particularly lamb.

  • 1 (12-ounce) can stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 whole fresh jalapenos
  • 1 whole medium white onion
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 to 6 fresh Roma tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • Tortilla chips
Puree stewed tomato juice only, garlic and 2 jalapenos in a blender or processor. Finely chop the onion, 1 jalapeno, 2 to 3 tablespoons of cilantro and 4 to 6 Roma tomatoes. Roughly chop the stewed tomatoes. Mix all these ingredients in a large bowl. Season with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and lime juice. Serve with chips. 

Sage – Peppery-tasting, slightly bitter taste - sage has large,slightly furry leaves when fresh. In Western cooking, it is used for flavoring fatty meats, such as beef (especially as a marinade), cheeses (Sage Derby), and some drinks. In the United States,Britain and Flanders,sage is used with onion for poultry or pork stuffing and also in sauces. In French cuisine, sage is used for cooking white meat and in vegetable soups. Germans often use it in sausage dishes, and sage forms the dominant flavoring in the English Lincolnshire sausage. Sage is also common in Italian cooking. Sage is sauteed in olive oil and butter until crisp, then plain or stuffed pasta is added (burro e salvia). In the Balkans and the Middle East, it is used when roasting mutton. Dried sage goes particularly well with pork or in pasta sauces and in stuffing. It has a very strong flavor, so use in moderation or it will overpower the dish. Great for meat and poultry stuffing, sausages, meat loaf, hamburgers, stews and salads.

Boursin Cheese Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh Greek or Italian oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sweet marjoram, finely chopped

Fluff the cream cheese with an electric mixer or a fork. Add lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard and mix well. Use a fork to stir in the chopped fresh herbs- do not use the mixer here. Place in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature. Makes 1 cup.

SpearmintMints are aromatic herbs. There are over 30 different varieties of mint and their flavors all vary. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, salads and with vegetables and ice creams. In Middle Eastern cuisine mint is used on lamb dishes. In British cuisine, mint sauce is popular with lamb. Mint essential oil and menthol are extensively used as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies. The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are menthol. The compound primarily responsible for the aroma and flavor of spearmint is R-carvone. Methyl salicylate, commonly called "oil of wintergreen," is often used as a mint flavoring for foods and candies due to its mint-like flavor.

Mint Fruit Dip  
This is a cool, refreshing salad that’s sure to be a hit during the hot days that will be here soon.

• 2 cups Greek yogurt
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
• 12 fresh mint leaves, chopped

Mix together all ingredients. Cover and store in refrigerator. Dip your strawberries, apples and anything else you have in this dip and kick back with a nice Pinot Grigio.

PepperPepper is the world's most popular spice; a berry grown in grapelike clusters on the pepper plant. The berry is processed to produce three basic types: black, white, and green. Black is the strongest (slightly hot with a hint of sweetness) flavor of the three. White peppercorn is less pungent.Black and white are available whole, cracked, and ground. Green peppercorns are packed in brine and are available in jars and cans. Whole peppercorns freshly ground with a pepper mill deliver more flavor than pre-ground. Goes well with cheese, eggs, fish, game, lamb, pork, poultry, salad, sausages, soup, steaks, strawberries, tomatoes, veal.

Hot Corn Dip
2 tablespoons butter
3½ cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped white onion
½ cup finely chopped red bell peppers (find this in a jar)
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
4 ounces Monterey jack, shredded
4 ounces sharp Cheddar, shredded
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Tortilla chips or Fritos Scoops for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add the chopped white onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add the green onions, jalapeno, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Transfer to the bowl with the corn. Add mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, half of the Monterrey jack and half of the Cheddar and mix well.  Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish, or equivalent and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot with chips.

PaprikaPaprika is a spice made from the grinding of dried Capsicum (e.g. bell pepper) and can be sweet to hot and also somewhat bitter. Paprika is principally used to season and color potato or egg salad, deviled eggs, rice, stews, and soups, such as goulash and in the preparation of sausages as an
ingredient that is mixed with meats and other spices. It is often smoked to draw additional flavors. In Spain, paprika is known as pimento, and is quite different in taste; pimento has a distinct, smoky flavor and aroma, and is a key ingredient in several sausage products, such as chorizo or sobrasada, as well as much Spanish cooking.

Southern Style Grilled Barbecue Chicken Wings
Makes about 2 dozen wings

1/2 cup salt
2 lbs chicken wings, wingtips removed
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper

For barbecue sauce:
1 8-oz. can of tomato sauce
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt


Pre-heat your propane grill on medium-low. Place chicken wings in a bowl with salt and 4 cups of cold water. Allow to brine in the refrigerator for 30 min. In the meantime make rub by mixing the rest of the ingredients and set aside. Make the barbecue sauce by mixing all of the ingredients and bringing it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes and set aside. Drain chicken wings and dry with a paper towel. Toss with the dry rub in a separate bowl until evenly coated. Grill wings on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes per side until browned and crunchy. Then place in a large bowl and add half of the barbecue sauce, making sure it is coated evenly. Bring back to the grill and grill on each side until caramelized and slightly charred, about 2 minutes per side.

If you prefer more barbecue sauce, toss the wings back in the bowl and add the rest of the sauce. Otherwise serve as is.

Nutmeg– with nutmeg you actually get two for one.  Each nutmeg “nut” is covered with a material that is actually mace. Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate, warm, sweet and spicy flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh. Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog. It is used in cakes, cookies and also sprinkled on sweet potatoes.Mace is the aril (the bright red, lacy covering) of the nutmeg seed shell. Mace is somewhat more powerful than Nutmeg. Mace is a lighter color and can be used in light-colored dishes where the darker flecks of nutmeg would be undesirable. A small amount will enhance many recipes, adding fragrance without imposing too much flavor. Mace
works especially well with milk dishes like custards and cream sauces. It contributes to flavoring light-colored cakes and pastries, especially donuts. It can enhance clear and creamed soups and casseroles, chicken pies and sauces. Adding some to mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes creates a more interesting side dish. 

Mini Apple Pie

8 cups of apples, cut in small 1/2 pieces.
12 tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cup of sugar
4 heaping teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (depending on how much you like nutmeg)
4 tablespoons of chilled butter cut into 24 equal portions.
two boxes of Pillsbury pie crusts (four chilled NOT frozen crusts)

Start by cutting up apples into small 1/2 in bits. Mix apples with flour, cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg.  Unroll your first pie crust and cut several circles out. Continue this until you have enough crusts. A wide mouth mason jar ring cuts the perfect sized circle. Line each cup of your muffin tin with a tiny pie crust. Gently fill the crusts with your apple mixture You should be able to fill until slightly mounded. and put a dab of butter on each pie. Cover as desired with left over dough. Brush with melted butter and bake at 400 for 18 to 22 minutes. Recipe makes 24 mini pies.

Thyme – for summer cooking, especially grilling, I recommend the stronger flavor. The leaves are stems of a shrub grown in France and Spain.  Has a strong, distinctive almost minty or lemony flavor.  A delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance, thyme is a wonderful addition to bean, egg and
vegetable dishes.  Fresh thyme should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Dried thyme should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months. Thyme, either in its fresh or dried form, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. Add thyme to your favorite pasta sauce recipe, stews, in stuffing for chicken, in green salads and with vegetables. Fresh thyme adds a wonderful fragrance to omelets and scrambled eggs. Hearty beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans taste exceptionally good when seasoned with thyme. When poaching fish, place some sprigs of thyme on top of the fish and in the poaching liquid. Season soups and stocks by adding fresh thyme.

 Branch Dressing 

¼ cup dill sprigs
¼ cup parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
¼  medium shallot
½ clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Splash of Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons powdered buttermilk

Puree all of the ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Refrigerate the dressing for at least an hour to allow it to thicken.

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