Fresh Herbs

We all use dried herbs. Or at least we should. But what we don’t use, and I’m including myself, is fresh herbs. And we should. They add an amazing flavor componant to almost any dish. Fresh herbs are avaliable in your average grocery store and are fairly inexpensive. But the problem is you buy a bunch, use it for one or two dishes, then it wilts and goes bad in the fridge. And of course right when you realize it’s nasty is when you need it for another recipe.

An alternative to this happening is you can dry the herbs after you use them but before they end up as mush. An easy way is to sandwich them in paper towels and place them in the phone book. Think of this like pressing flowers. But if you do this you need to check them every day so when they are just dried you can crumble them up and put them in a spice container. If you let them go too long in the paper towel and phone book you will lose all their flavor and you might as well frame them.

Another way to dry them quickly is to do another Alton Brown tip. For this you will need a couple cellulose air filters (hardware store), make sure you don’t have the fiberglass ones, a box fan (K-Mart) and a couple bungee cords. Basically you wash the herbs and lay them in the crinkles of one of the air filters. Then put the other filter over the herbs. Use the bungee cords to strap the filters to the front of the box fan, where the air comes out. Turn on the fan on high for about 2 hours. Check the herbs and they should be dry. It’s amazing. Be sure to store all dry herbs in a air tight container in a cupboard or a container that will let no light in. They will taste fresher longer this way.

Then you have the option of buying the herbs in a tube. I really like this because the herbs stay in the tube in the fridge and they stay good for a long time. Time enough for me to use the whole tube without nastiness.

Growing herbs. It’s something we all think of but few of us actually do. Right now I have flat leaf parsley, lemon thyme, mink and chives growing in my back yard. And I use them all the time. But I live in an area that isn’t good to grow much else outside. It’s just not warm enough for it. So instead I’m trying to grow basil and oregano in my kitchen window. We’ll see how that works out. Growing your own herbs is great because you can use them as you need them, they don’t go bad when they are still on the plant, and you have what you need at your fingertips. I really recommend trying to grow your own herbs. If nothing else it’s super cheap.

Next topic: using the fresh herbs. There are a million dishes that fresh herbs are good in. The problem is that a lot of people don’t realize that many different herbs can be used in many different ethnic dishes other than what the mind first thinks of.

For example. Basil. You think Italian, right? Red sauce, pizza, even Stuffed Chicken Breast. But you can also add fresh basil to Thai food or Indian food. It adds a nice sweet taste to something that is usually spicy. Same thing with cilantro. Cilantro is usually thought of as a Hispanic ingredient but it’s regularly added to Asian foods as well. Parsley, the flat leaf kind, is another one that can go for pretty much anything. My recipe for borscht, Russian beet stew, tastes wonderful with some fresh parsley in it.

So, to sum up, buy fresh herbs as much as you can. They are great in anything. Buy tube fresh herbs since they last longer and don’t really have a drop in quality. Grow your herbs if you can, it’s really worth it. Dry your fresh herbs before they get nasty. Store in an air tight container away from light. And finally use herbs in all that you can. They make a world of difference in your food.

Feta Stuffed Chicken Breast

We had this the other night. It was excellent. I’m a big fan of stuffed anything but this topped the charts for stuffed chicken breast. And face it, we are all looking for a new way to make chicken.

4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Cut open the side of the chicken breast and make a pocket in the chicken. Combine the feta, white cheddar, basil and some fresh ground black pepper. Stuff into the pocket that you made in the chicken breast. Heat a little oil in an oven safe skillet and brown one side of the chicken. Flip chicken over when brown and move skillet into hot oven for about 20 minutes. Check chicken for doneness but don’t let it get over cooked. Once chicken is cooked let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.