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

Operation Save What You Can: Homemade Flavored Salts

homemade flavored salt

If you have a herb garden, chances are this is the last call – they will start wasting away soon as the weather slowly changes. Here’s a great opportunity to save some of the fresh sprigs: make flavored salts with them!

Food enthusiasts like you and me will love these finishing salts because they add a pop of flavor to everything they touch. In this post I’m sharing a way to take your dishes from good to oh my faster than you can say fűszersó (flavored salt). DIY seasoned salts are a tasty and elegant addition to almost any food and considerably more economical to make at home than buying at high-end grocers and specialty spice stores.

And who wouldn’t want to add a layer of complexity to just about any meal and expand the flavors that are already present?

If you are family or a friend of mine, you know you can expect food gifts from me. These would make lovely housewarming presents, wedding favors or holiday sets as well.

homemade flavored salt

Infusing the salt is done by simply mixing it with whatever flavor you choose in a food processor, mortar and pestle, coffee grinder or simply by hand.

What type of salt should be used? It’s up to you! Coarse, flaky salt adds flair when sprinkled over dishes just before serving and is preferable for texture and appearance, while fine salt is more useful in cooking.

As for the herbs and spices to season salt with, the flavor possibilities  are limited only by your imagination. My favorite combinations include pairings like rosemary and lemon, thyme and lavender, dried mushrooms and sage, garlic and black pepper or chilies and lime.

Ingredients may be fresh or dried (a food dehydrator like this from Hamilton Beach is a good investment, you’ll be surprised how versatile an appliance it is). You may leave the sprigs of herbs whole, or chop to small pieces. Citrus rind can be grated or peeled into strips prior to drying, or you could also use slices.

Salt is a natural preserver, so your flavored salts, stored in an airtight container, can be used indefinitely (note that over time intensity of flavor will diminish). To avoid clumping, spread out mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and air dry or dry in the oven at low temperature, stirring occasionally. Once the moisture is gone and salt has cooled, use a fork or your fingers to break up before packing up in a nice container. Ideally, let it sit at least a few days before using.

As a rule of thumb, work with a ratio of 1 teaspoon of flavoring per 1/4 cup salt.

homemade flavored salt

homemade flavored salt

Now let’s hear it from you! What blends do you have in mind, and what are you going to use flavored salt on?

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!*

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

*Disclaimer: 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!*

Herb Infused Honey

herb infused honey titleGot the first whiff of fall at my neck of the woods which means I need to adjust my thinking about grabbing a jacket on my way out. This transitional time of year always has an ancestral effect on my psyche, like I need to collect and save stuff because you know, winter is coming. It’s funny how this instinct kicks in even though we live in a world where everything is available, always.

With cooler nights and days slowly but surely shortening, our morning rituals change as well. We stopped drinking tea around May, but know the demand is back. A pot of steaming goodness with a little honey and a few drops of lemon juice, accompanied by a purring furball in each of our laps. Talk about comfy.

As for honey, we don’t buy from the supermarket any more but are getting it by the bucket straight from a honey farmer. You should find a reputable local beekeeper close by too since it’s virtually impossible to know the source of honey on the shelves (remember the headlines of contaminated, illegally labeled Chinese products…). Honey is a classic example of the expression you get what you pay for and can get quite pricey, so buy in bulk.

Purchasing from the source not only helps keep local farmers in business, but it’s actually honey. From actual bees. Moreover, while most commercial honeys are pasteurized and ultra-filtered, honey farmers sell raw, unheated products that have retained all the nutritional benefits.

If you don’t like honey that crystallized over time, you can gently heat it in a water bath to dissolve, or you can divide a big batch to smaller portions and freeze, which will not harm the enzymes.

Crystallization isn’t an indication that the honey has gone bad, in fact, honey doesn’t have an expiration date. BTW honey that tends to solidify quickly has a high amount of pollen, which many mass-market manufacturers extract during the filtering process to make their product more visually appealing. What a waste!

Honey is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic and actively promotes the healing of tissues. Add the health benefits of herbs to the equation, and you have yourself a wonder-worker: apart from being insanely delicious, herbal honey may also be used medicinally (taken internally or used externally as well).

Sore throat? Sage honey. Toothache? Clove honey. Minor burns? Chamomile honey, and the list goes on. Enjoy straight from the spoon, in tea, lemonade, drizzled over desserts, fresh fruit, ice cream, oatmeal, on toast with butter, or even in salad dressings.

Rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, lemon balm, lavender, elderflower, chamomile and nettle all make lovely infused honey. You can also use spices like vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger or star anise.

dried sage

Create single-herb infusions or figure out blends for your liking. Equal parts lavender, chamomile, lemon balm and nutmeg for instance makes a lovely concoction to help you fall asleep easy. The rule of thumb is 1 part herbs to 3 parts honey, but it’s not an exact science, freely adjust to taste and experiment. Like, I use less lavender than the aforementioned amount because it can get a little overwhelming.

dried lavender buds

Food safety: the typical pH value of honey ranges between 3.4 and 6.1 so it’s acidic enough. To make sure you prevent the outgrowth of C. botulinum spores, herbs should be dry. Use clean glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Herbal honey should keep indefinitely if you store it out of direct sunlight.

lavender infused honey

herb infused honey labeled

I made this tiny jar as a hostess gift with home grown lavender. You guessed, that is my handwriting. 🙂 I love these inexpensive kraft paper labels that I ordered at AliExpress, my favorite source for craft supplies. The basic recipe for infused honey is as follows:

Herb Infused Honey

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

mildly flavored raw honey

dried herbs

Directions

  1. Fill jar about ¼ of the way with dry herbs.
  2. Pour honey over herbs, close jar tightly.
  3. Let infuse for a few weeks, but at least 5 days. Herbs may rise to the top and absorb some of the honey.
  4. Strain honey into a clean jar, and make a big pot of tea right away with the leftover herbs.

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 in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Photo featured in title image © KMNPhoto

Pantry Staples: Herbes de Provence & Herbes de Toscane

pantry staples: herbes de provence & herbes de toscane title image

The best of summer might well be gone, but it’s not too late to further exploit your herb garden: pick and dry some more to use in spice blends!

In the world of spices, there are a few combinations that have withstood the test of time. The classic blends I’m going to tell you about today have been used for centuries to flavor meat, fish, poultry, soups, stews and vegetables and are a building block in every home cook’s pantry. Lucky for us, we can make them for ourselves with no effort.

Mixing your own spices also means you’ll add what you want and avoid what you don’t. I for example am not a big fan of cumin, so I simply exclude it. What you also won’t get making your own blend is the additions some manufacturers put in commercially mixed spices such as MSG (or E621, which is a flavor enhancer) or anti-caking agents like silicon dioxide. I think we all agree that we can live without them.

Spice mixes are more art than science. Therefore, the two mixtures below will have many other versions floating around. Consider this as a guide and initial inspiration for how you can add more complex flavor to your cooking. Salt is listed in the ingredients for if you choose to make flavored salt instead of a simple spice mix. Here I added ChanteSel Coarse Sea Salt that I buy at my local Lidl.

To store your spice blends, use glass containers with tight-fitting covers. Empty jars from mustard, baby food, capers or jams are perfect, and their small size will remind you not to make too big quantities. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Prepare your senses to experience the essence of the Mediterranean!

Herbes de Provence: Formerly simply a descriptive term, this blend of spices wasn’t actually sold until the 1970’s. It is especially good mixed with olive oil to coat chicken, fish, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini or chunks of potato for roasting, adding to pizza sauce or sprinkled over game or kabobs before roasting. It’s also used for seasoning salads and cheese, as well as soups and stews. Store bought Herbes de Provence made for the US market usually includes lavender, although it is not used in traditional southern French cuisine.

Herbes de Provence

Ingredients

2 tbsp dried rosemary

2 tbsp dried thyme

2 tbsp dried basil

2 tbsp dried marjoram

1 tbsp dried oregano

1½ tbsp dried sage

(5 tbsp coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using.

homemade spice mix with sea salt

Herbes de Toscane: Or Asperso, if salt is added. The name translates to „sprinkle” in Italian. This concoction dates back to medieval times when it was used as a meat cure, but you can put it on everything: roasted or grilled meats, sautéed vegetables, roasted potatoes, you name it. Traditionally the herbs would be combined and stored in a terracotta urn.

Herbes de Toscane

Ingredients

1/8 cup whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp juniper berries

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp dried sage

1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tbsp dried thyme

(¼ cup coarse sea salt)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a jar. If adding salt, allow to infuse at least a week before using. Grind coarsely in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder before using, and then, you know, sprinkle.

It goes without saying that a pretty label and a few inches of twine can make your spice blends fit for gifting. Make sure to include suggestions for use!

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 in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

“Store shelves with goods” illustration featured in title image © Redspruce

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
  • Print

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.

homemade-herb-butter-ingredients

homemade-herb-butter-herbs

homemade-herb-butter-garlic

homemade-herb-butter-mixed

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!*