Growing your very own cuilnary herbs!

How many times have you started cooking and said to yourself, “Oh, I forgot to get basil at the store…”? Well, if you’re like the rest of us it has probably happened at least once. I’ve learned my lesson and try to the have the most commonly used herbs on hand, which I grow myself. Growing herbs is surprisingly easy because they do most of the work themselves.

You have two options to choose from:

  1. Growing from seed
  2. Growing using a start (A start is a plant that already has an established root system.)

You can buy seeds and starts from any local nursery or home improvement gardening center (Lowe’s and Home Depot have some of the best priced for start plants. The following are websites for your gardening needs.

Many of these herbs do well indoors, but depending on your Zone/region you may have better luck growing outdoors.

Here is a list of commonly used herbs that are necessary for cooking (no matter what type of cuisine you make):

  1. Genovese Basil (cultivar of ‘sweet basil’)
  2. Purple Basil (popular in Asian cooking, has several varieties)
  3. Chervil
  4. Chives
  5. Coriander Seed (popular in Asian cooking)
  6. Cilantro (the plant part of coriander seed, also popular in Asian cooking)
  7. Dill
  8. French Tarragon
  9. Garlic Chives
  10. Mint
  11. Oregano
  12. Parsley
  13. Rosemary
  14. Sage
  15. Thyme
  16. Green onions (scallions) – even those these are not classified as an herb or spice they are extremely easy to grow and can be done so by using store bought ones and cutting off the bulb, leaving about an inch or two above the bulb. Place in water to hydrate the roots for a few days then transfer to a pot or planter.

In most Mediterranean cooking there are just a handful of herbs that will be used for almost every dish.

  1. Genovese Basil
  2. Garlic chives (great for garnishing, salads, and panini)
  3. Oregano
  4. Parsley
  5. Rosemary
  6. Sage
  7. Thyme

I have found that in parts of Zone 9 and 10 (where I live in Florida) Oregano, Rosemary, and Thyme grow much better from starts rather than seed.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map:

zone_map2

There are a variety of  books from your local library or bookstore that discuss growing, but sometimes it’s trial and error, as it was in my case. You can even take some classes from your community college or look to volunteer at a co-op to learn more.

 

 

 

Vegetable Stock

This stock is one of the easiest stocks to make and takes anywhere from 30 -65 minutes to cook.

Vegetable Stock:

  • 1 gallon cold water plus a little extra
  • 3 lb mirepoix, large-dice (ratio is always 2:1:1/onion:carrot:celery)
  • 3 lb nonstarchy vegetables (leeks, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, parsnips, etc..)
  • 2 tsp salt (I use coarse sea salt)
  • 1 Sachet d’épices

Directions:

  1. Place a large rondeau (wide, fairly shallow pan with two handles) over medium high heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water in pan to ensure it’s hot before adding the vegetables.
  2. Once pan is hot, add the onion first. Let them cook for a few minutes, you will notice that they start to sweat, but don’t let them caramelize. Once this happens turn the heat down to medium and add the carrots and celery.
  3. At this point it is more of a preference of the chef as to how long you let the vegetables sweat. I usually let them cook for about 8 minutes or so (this is one reason I don’t let the onions caramelize because they run the risk of burning).
  4. Once the vegetables have been sweated, add the cold water, salt and Sachet d’épices. Reduce the heat to low heat and cook for 60 minutes. If you are adding any other vegetables or vegetable trimmings, to include skins, then you may add them at this time. Depending on what type of flavor you are trying to achieve or the dish you are making be sure to understand that different vegetables will change the profile of the stock and may not go well with everything.
  5. Be cautious as the stock begins to cook down; this is why I add a little extra, usually about 1 1/2 cups, cold water. Also, by having the extra water will give you right around 1 gallon of stock.
  6. For best results, do not cover and stir occasionally. There is a term that we use called depouillage. This is the method of skimming the impurities from the surface of the stock as it boils. The impurities are very noticeable as it becomes that frothy, foaming like substance that gathers at the top. Take a slotted spoon to depouillage and discard the impurities. This is essential to having a good quality stock.
  7. After the stock is done cooking, remove from heat and strain the stock. The best piece of equipment to use is a chinois, also know as a ‘china cap’. Begin the cooling process or if you may use it right away.

*Safe methods for cooling:

  1. Ice-water bath – easy and commonly used method. Divide food into smaller containers, then place containers in a sink or large pot filled with ice water, stirring the stock to cool more evenly and faster.
  2. Ice paddle – Plastic ice paddles are a great and easy way to cool stock. They can be filled with ice or filled with water and then frozen, if you have a big enough freezer

Please read my Techniques and Methods page for more information on the proper cooling methods.

*NOTE: Once the stock has been completely cooled another useful way you can store and use stocks are in the form of ice cubes. This allows you to use small amounts at a time and are very convenient for single use; not every recipe is going to be made for a large group. Cheap plastic ice trays are perfect for this. I usually freeze multiple trays then, once frozen, I transfer them to a container so that I can properly date them. You may either transfer them to another container or you may simply leave them in the ice trays and place the trays in a plastic zipper top bag. Just be sure to remove as much air as possible before placing in the freezer.

 

 

Country Style Roasted Chicken

This recipe is quite easy, even for those with little or no experience. Before we get started there are a few things I would like to cover… Poultry is eaten around the world in abundance, but for the purpose of this recipe it is more specifically tailored after the country side of Italian cuisine, however, it can be adapted to any whole roasted chicken dish. In Northern and Central regions of Italy poultry is eaten often where as Southern Regions (certain areas may not be suitable terrain to successfully raise poultry) like Sicily, Calabria, Apulia, and Sardinia, poultry is not consumed as often sometimes not at all. Seafood, pork, lamb, goat, and wild game meat is more likely consumed, however, some recipes have been changed over the years here in America due to a lack of quality meats; lamb, game, and goat are not as readily available in certain parts of the states so we have to make due. Also, depending on the region different types of fats are used, olive oils are used more often in Central and Southern Italy. Northern Italy uses butter and animal fats over olive oil. I am not saying that olive oil is not used in Northern Italy, it’s just not used as much.

***PLEASE READ*** This is very important. While working in kitchens and attending culinary school we did not wash poultry. By washing poultry it can produce bacteria and increase your risks of getting sick.

Be familiar with FDA Food Safety procedures and protocol.

Here are some help resources you may want to checkout:

https://www.fda.gov/Food/default.html

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/index.html

https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm255180.htm

https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/FoodborneIllnessesNeedToKnow/default.htm

Country Style Roasted Chicken:

  • 6 lb whole chicken
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 small apple or orange, halved
  • 2/3 cup olive oil or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 celery stalk, cut in half crossways
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 tbsp dried thyme
  • 4 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground marjoram
  • 2 tbsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 cups Vegetable or Chicken stock

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, marjoram, and garlic powder. Set aside.
  3. On a cutting board, preferably a yellow color coded one (yellow for poultry), remove any gizzards  or packages from inside the cavity of the bird.
  4. With a parring knife, make a small incision at the top (where the cavity opening of the chicken is). Work your fingers underneath the skin, separating the skin from the meat; don’t go too far back but work it down the top and sides of the breast.
  5. Next, take 1/2 of the amount of butter or oil and massage it into the meat underneath the separated skin. This will help keep the meat moist not to mention it will add flavor.
  6. Take the apple/orange, onion, celery and bay leaves and place them inside the cavity of the bird.
  7. Using the remaining butter or oil and gently rub onto the skin. Be thorough and cover the entire chicken. Then sprinkle the herb and spice mixture all over the bird, covering every part you can (do not turn the chicken over to cover the bottom which is not necessary).
  8. Place the chicken in a deep roasting pan. Pour the stock into the pan. The stock should not be cover more than 1/4 of the chicken.
  9. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, making sure it is not touching the bird if at all possible. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (ovens vary so time may be different). The internal temperature should be 165ºF (the temp must be holding steady for 15 seconds) at a minimum and I don’t recommend anything higher than 175ºF. When collecting the temperature on the whole chicken place the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast but be careful not to get a false reading (if the thermometer goes into the cavity of bird it will give a lower/ false temperature).
  10. Once the internal temperature reaches 165ºF, remove the chicken from the oven. Be very careful transferring the chicken from the pan to a serving dish, not only will it be extremely hot, but you don’t want it to fall apart as you pick it up. I usually use a pair of heavy duty two-prong forks to transfer it.
  11. Carve and serve! A nice merlot, cabernet or chianti pairs well with the roasted chicken.

*NOTE: There are many types of side dishes that can accompany roasted chicken. Potatoes, asparagus, carrots, parsnips, roasted tomatoes, etc… Keep an eye out for more of my blogs as will be starting to compile menus for your enjoyment!