3 Easy Ways to Freeze Your Herbs

close-up of basil plant

One of summer’s underrated pleasures is using your own fresh herbs. Wether from your garden, patio planter or windowsill pots, their flavor-boosting power will enhance your cooking all season long.

If you already have a herb garden, nod along: there is always a point during these few months when you find yourself with more than you can possibly use. Sadly fresh herbs, like summer itself, are but a fleeting moment.

But! While admittedly no storage method can faithfully retain the flavor and texture of fresh herbs, there are some simple techniques to preserve surpluses.

Dehydrating, a.k.a drying is one of those methods. It works best with woody herbs like bay leaf and rosemary however, drying may not be the most effective option with tender herbs like mint or basil. (I’m not saying you can’t dry soft-stemmed herbs, because you absolutely can. It’s just that some methods produce better results than others.)

Freezing is another option, and you know how much I love my freezer. It’s a fast and easy way that retains the taste, smell and nutrients found in fresh herbs long after the growing season has ended – the bounty will stay fresh for up to 12 months. Sadly it’s not perfect either, because there will be a change in color and texture: the formation of ice crystals destroys cell walls, turning the herbs limp after defrosting. Frozen herbs are also prone to freezer burn, this happens when the ice crystals in them go directly from solid ice form to water vapor.

All in all, frozen herbs are ideal in sauces, soups, marinades and stews, rather than thawed as a garnish. Freeze them in small portions and just take out what you need – it’s a great way to have herbs immediately for cooking.

I’ve collected 3 easy ways for you to freeze your herbs:

Chop & freeze. This is the most straightforward thing to do, but also the highest risk of freezer burn. Store chopped herbs in portions in small zipper-lock bags, flattened, with the air pressed out as much as possible.

Frozen, covered with water. Chop herbs and place portions in an ice-cube tray, cover with water. Freeze, than transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store. Tip: I use this method to make what I call lemonade starters – I place lemon slices and mint leaves in my muffin tray, fill holes with water and freeze.

Frozen, covered with oil. Preserving herbs in oil yields the best results in my experience – the method reduces some of the browning and the oil-based cubes also melt faster compared to water-covered cubes. Use the ice-cube tray slots and cover chopped herbs with a neutral vegetable oil or a mild olive oil. When solid, transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store.

You can store the different varieties separate, or you can prepare herb mixes for foods you make often (think pasta sauce).

Have you tried any of these methods? How did they work out for you? Which are your favorite herbs to preserve? Let me know!

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image ‘Close-up of basil plant’ via Freepik

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Infusing Olive Oil

infusing olive oil

Herb season is in full swing and I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to preserve as much of the aroma of summer as I can. After herb butter, here’s another great way to do just that: making infused oils.

Create amazing flavors by mixing & matching your favorite spices, herbs and aromatics for a truly unique oil blend perfect for amping up salad dressings, drizzling over pasta and seafood, dipping bread into and so much more!

Before you start, it’s important that we talk about food safety. Although the oil itself will not, remaining traces of water in the aromatics might support bacterial growth, inducing a risk of botulism, a rare but very serious form of food poisoning. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are germs found in the soil and can survive, grow, and produce toxins in a sealed jar of food. Always sterilize your containers thoroughly and dry the herbs before using.

What kind of oil should be used? Any neutrally flavored oil will work fine, but olive oil is a natural choice since it complements a wide variety of flavors. There’s no need to splurge on the most expensive bottles, but using decent, good quality is always the way to go.

What should you infuse oil with? Garlic, chili peppers, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and tarragon are my top suggestions. You will need about 2 tablespoons of flavoring per cup of oil.

There are two ways of making infused oils:

The cold process. Immerse the ingredients in the oil, seal the bottle and let sit in a cool, dark place. The oil will slowly infuse over time, picking up the flavor fairly quickly in the first few weeks, and then slowly intensifying. It is fine to leave the herbs in for a long time, eventually all the flavor leaves them and the oil flavor stabilizes.

The stovetop process. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat with the spices (whole or ground) for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. This way the oil infuses quicker and the risk of bacterial growth is further reduced. Note that boiling affects the flavor and quality of the oil! Use a food thermometer (like this one) and keep temperature below boiling.

How to store? Keep flavored oils refrigerated and use up within a few months. Discard immediately if characteristics (smell, color, consistency) have changed in any way. When gifting flavored oils, include storage instructions as well as serving suggestions on a pretty label.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image: ‘Healthy ingredients on a kitchen table’ by Valeria Aksakova via freepik

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How to Dry Herbs

close-up green bay leaves

While the herbs from your herb garden are best used fresh, this time of the year there is always more than you can handle. But, there are ways you can make your herb garden last and enjoy the home-grown, summer flavors all year. Read on to learn one of the basic methods: how to dry herbs in a few simple steps. Your own dried herbs will not cost you a dime and will taste better than store-bought because they’ll be newer and more pungent.

If you are interested in preserving foods, dehydrating is the easiest place to jump in. For effective drying, all you need is air circulation and warmth. When herbs are dried, they are safe from bacteria, mold and yeast, and will remain potent for a whole year. It can take a few hours to several days for them to dry fully. Most herbs contain so little moisture that your job is done soon after you’ve harvested them.

What should you dry? Strong leaved herbs tend to be the easiest to deal with. Bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender will usually retain their color and shape without any difficulty. Tender leaved varieties can be a bit trickier. Basil, parsley, mint, tarragon and lemon balm need to be dried quicker to avoid mold.

How to start? Harvest before flowers open. Best time is mid-morning after the dew has dried but before essential oils are burned off by the sun. Washing usually isn’t necessary (if needed, rinse and shake lightly). Remove old, dead, diseased or wilted leaves. Strip large-leaved herbs, such as sage and mint, from their stalks but leave small, feathery herbs like dill, on the stalks until drying is complete.

 And now, 3 methods to choose from:

Air drying. Tie stems in bundles. Use rubber bands rather than string, they will tighten around the stems that contract as they dry. Optional: put the bundles in a mesh bag and tie at the neck. Now find a warm, dry spot and hang them upside down. Avoid direct sunlight and humid places such as your kitchen.

Making a drying screen is also a good idea. Any wood frame will do (even a picture frame), just staple cheese cloth or mosquito mesh to it. If you are not feeling savvy in this area, ask your SO to help. There’s a great tutorial over at The Herbal Academy to give you an idea. From here, it’s as low-tech as placing the screen outside until herbs are brittle (always bring them in for the night).

Oven drying. Not an energy-efficient method, but quicker. Lay out herbs evenly on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon to allow ventilation, set oven on low (below 80°C). It takes 1 to 4 hours for them to dry this way.

Drying using a dehydrator. If you don’t have one yet, it is a very good investment. Most dehydrators have adjustable temperature control mechanisms, a fan to circulate air and multiple stacking trays. Follow your machine’s instructions.

For best flavor, keep the leaves whole until you are ready to use them, then crush or crumble with your fingers. Keep in labeled, dated airtight containers.

It’s all really effortless, I hope you try your hands at it! Be sure to drop by and check the recipes using herbs preserved with this method.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image ‘Close-up green bay leaves’ via Freepik

Homemade Herb Butter

When your herb garden starts going crazy (mine is now), or you just couldn’t control yourself at the market and ended up bringing home waaaay more butter than needed (me last week, but the price at Lidl was irresistible!), it’s time to make herb butter.

Just imagine adding this to smoked salmon, stuffing under the skin of a chicken, serving with baked or mashed potatoes, slathering on grilled meat and veggies like corn, melted on pasta or putting a nice pat of it on your favorite bread… Hmmm!

Better yet, making this flavorful goodness only takes a few minutes of your life, keeps in the fridge for weeks, and you can freeze it too (that way, it’s good for months). Ready? Let’s do this!

Homemade Herb Butter

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

250 g (about 1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup mixed herbs (such as basil, thyme, marjoram, sage, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon, oregano or rosemary)

2 medium garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp sea salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

chili flakes to taste (optional)

Directions

  1. Chop herbs (herb scissors, like this one make it lightning fast, a useful addition to your kitchen gadgets).
  2. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients well until herbs are distributed evenly in the butter.
  3. Dump onto a piece of cling foil or parchment paper, shape into a cylinder and seal ends by twisting. You may also pack butter into ramekins and cover with plastic.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least an hour.

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homemade-herb-butter-parchment

Feel free to experiment! I encourage you to try different combinations of the herbs listed above, and you can play with the proportions as well to create signature flavors. I just whipped up a batch with equal parts sage and parsley, and oh my. Will be gone in a jiffy.

Next time you are invited to a garden cookout bring this along with the six-packs, hosts and guests alike will love you for it.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link; I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

Homemade Mint Syrup

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Hello guys! After quite a few rainy days we are finally getting some sunshine here. How’s your herb garden doing? I am inquiring because if you want to preserve some of your mint, now’s the time to do it. I found that mine is healthiest and lushest around this period. After overblowing in June, it’s growth slows down and shoots become tougher. Academic literature (a.k.a. google) too advises to harvest before the plant blooms, although it’s never mentioned why. If anyone knows, enlighten me please! It is also said that harvesting herbs is best in the morning just as the dew evaporates, before the heat of the day to get the highest essential oil content.

There are several ways to conserve herbs and today I’m going to show you how to make mint infused syrup to step up your beverage game.

Simple syrup is nothing more than a solution of sugar in water, a commonly used ingredient in many drinks and thus an indispensable part of your arsenal as a cocktailian. Referred to as one-to-one, it’s made of 1 part sugar and 1 part water. So easy, I just can’t believe people are buying it premade.

To make, combine sugar and water in a small pan, turn heat to medium and stir occasionally to dissolve crystals. Bring to a boil than remove from heat, allow to cool, bottle and refrigerate. For a more flavorful syrup, consider using raw brown sugar, it maintains more of a molasses character.

A stronger version, known as rich syrup is the same thing with a larger proportion of sugar. Some bartenders make it with 1.5 parts sugar to 1 part water, while others go up to a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. Rich syrup gives you the advantage of using less per drink and it also keeps longer before spoiling. The reason? Sugar acts as a preservative (think jams, which are also called preserves).

Syrups have a decent shelf life when prepared and stored properly, that is, made with boiling water and stored in a sterile container in the refrigerator. That, needless to say, doesn’t mean interminable — syrup can get moldy, so make quantities you’re likely to use within a reasonable time frame. As a rule of thumb 1:1 hot-process simple syrup should last 2 months, while 2:1 simple syrup should last 6 months. Always check for mold and you’d be ok.

To infuse your syrup, roughly chop 1 bunch of fresh mint (about 1 cup), stems and leaves together.

homemade-mint-syrup-cutting-board

Add to sugar and water, make syrup with lid on. Essential oils are volatile, they will evaporate easily in the increased heat otherwise. Let cool with the lid still on, strain through a sieve and can up. You can discard of the mint, it has served its purpose.

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Use it for making all kinds of refreshing drinks, and be sure to try drizzling over chocolate ice-cream.

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Enjoy!

Fruzsi

Potting Herbs Is Easy

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Hey there new green thumbs! Hope things are looking good in your windowsills. By now the new additions to your home’s flora should show signs of growth. Isn’t it nice to watch them produce roots and leaves out of virtually nothing? Nature is indeed wonderful.

Brace yourselves, because we’ve arrived at a point where we need to get our hands a little dirty: it’s time to pot. Tools you’ll need include the pots and containers you decorated earlier, potting soil, bucket, newspaper, gloves and a trowel. You needn’t worry though, no degree in horticulture is necessary to carry on, not much to go wrong here.

Let’s get down to business! First things first, cover your work surface and collect all the necessary equipment around you. I know it’s obvious, but still… put your hand on your heart and tell me you never had to look for something in the middle of the process. I know I did. 🙂

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general potting soil mix with good drainage

That said, pour some soil in the bucket, it’s less messy to deposit to the pots that way than from a big bag. Fill the pots with soil, push down a little to compress and add some more. Arrange and separate your cuttings, cut lowest leaves from stems. You may plant each in separate pots, or create a container garden of them. If you decide on the latter, make sure to use a spacious container and leave plenty of room between the herbs.

potting herbs is easy collage

Now what you do is simply make holes in the middle of the pots, gently put the lower 1/3 of the cuttings in it, cover with soil and push down lightly. Water them carefully but thoroughly, the little hollow at the root will make it easier. Label them with your shiny new herb markers and well, that’s basically it! Congratulations on your herb garden!

potting herbs is easy kitchen garden

Caring for them from now on is really just providing a place with plenty of sunshine and watering regularly. The soil should be moist but your plants should not stand in water as that can cause rotting of the roots. No need for pesticides, the essential oils in these herbs will protect them from most known deseases. You will start using fresh spices in your kitchen sooner than you think!

Take care,

Fruzsi

Images used in collage from Growing Chefs

DIY Herb Markers

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Hope you all had a peaceful holiday! Now that you guys have the prettiest pots, I brought you another project before we plant those fragrant little shoots. To get your herb garden going organized and in style, I’ve rounded up some creative ways to label the greenery. These cute personalized herb markers will also help your less educated acquaintances know who’s who. 😉

Choose your favorite type and make a set of them or, if you live on the eclectic side, go for the all-different. As you will discover along the way, with a little imagination almost any material can be turned into a garden marker so have a look at the junk lying around, you might just find something to repurpose.

The most obvious approach is to get some wire or skewers and attach labels to them. Corks for instance, as Kristin of Cambria Estate Winery proves, make great weatherproof tags, which is a good way to use some of the millions you have (I feel you!). Write on them with permanent marker.

DIY herb markers cork
Corks on skewers

Not a wine drinker? Go see a doctor, fast! Until then, a substitute for corks can be wooden clothespins. Decorate them with washi tape as Carissa from Creative Green Living did or write some nice calligraphy, then clip on the skewers.

DIY herb markers clothespin
Clothespin tag on a skewer

Popsicle sticks, stir sticks or paint mixing sticks are great for crafts as well. Opt for something like these adorable red cedar stakes made by Trish & Co., upcycle by dipping in blackboard paint (as spotted on What You Sow), mark with rubber stamps or a wood burning tool. Easy!

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Numbered cedar stakes
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Blackboard painted herb markers

Feels good being frugal and giving new meaning to things others consider scrap, right?

Sincerely,

Fruzsi

Photo featured in title image by Ruth Eileen