As this cold weather continues to send shivers down my spine, I have begun to rely heavily on my slow cooker and I know I am not alone. If nothing else, for a mum with two young children, it is actually a relief to get dinner organised first thing in the morning, long before the mad rush of the afternoon park play and before baths or showers can be done.
I have found that the key to tasty winter cooking (other than cooking it low and slow) is herbs! Take old favourites to a new level and make one pot wonders for the whole family adding fresh, versatile herbs straight from your garden.
Rosmarinus officinalis, is an attractive woody stemmed perennial herb that is fragrant and has evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia. Rosemary is attractive, is easy to grow and is pest resistant, and can withstand lengthy periods or little or no water. It makes a great shrub as it grows quite large and can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges or even for topiary if your heart desires. Alternatively it grows well in pots.
Rosemary is ideal for flavouring meats such as roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey, and is great to use in stuffings. It works well with lemon and garlic.
As rosemary is easy to grow and care for, it makes an ideal addition to your herb garden. It can be propagated from a ‘cutting’ from an existing plant simply by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil. You will certainly make things easier on yourself if you start with a nursery grown plant, and you will be able to enjoy adding it to your food a whole lot sooner.
We love this Lemon and Rosemary Chicken but we generally serve it with warm roasted zucchini, pumpkin, capsicum and onion.
When we planted our first herb garden together, top of my wish list was Coriander as we love Asian flavours. Eager to please, hubby is determined to pick me a healthy speciman, so heads off. Upon getting home and removing the plant from the punnet, I was bitterly disappointed to find that it was Celery, not the Coriander I had hoped for
Thankfully, I was not disappointed for long. How many stews and casseroles do you know that start with a mirepoix base of onion, carrot and celery? A bazillion. So the celery flourished in our herb patch and was used almost every second day. Celery is now firmly up near the top of my wish list due to its versatility; I use it in stews, soups, casseroles and even salads.
The distinction between herbs and vegetables seems clear most of the time but celery is one exception to the rule as it has a herb like leafy top, and vegetable like stalks. Herbs are strongly flavoured plants which we use in small quantities to flavour other foods, including vegetables which tend to be less flavoured by nature. Celery is a stimulating, nourishing, and restorative herb. There is a pungency to celery, which is closer to what you get with herbs; a sense of strong plant chemicals exploding up your palate and flooding your mouth with flavour . It is hardly a surprise then to find that Celery is a part of the Apiaceae family, the same family of plants that includes parsley, caraway, cumin and coriander. Celery also has phthalides, a chemical that has the ability to intensify other flavours, which is perhaps why it so often forms the base to various recipes.
Slow cooked Beef and Red Wine casseroles or pies are a staple throughout winter in our house- give this one a go!
There are several varieties of bay leaves: Bay laurel, California bay leaf, Indian bay leaf, Indonesian bay leaf, West Indian bay leaf and Mexican bay leaf.
Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae (Bay Leaf) are used either fresh or dried in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves themselves are not meant to be eaten, although it is safe to do so. They have a sharp, bitter taste.
The leaves are generally used whole, or in a bouquet garni as they are easier to remove, however they can also be crushed or ground to impart more of their desired flavour. Crushed or ground leaves are generally placed within a muslin bag or tea infuser so they can easily be removed.
Bay leaves are great to use in bolognaise sauces, or in soups, stews, braises and pâtés. Bay leaves were used as favouring as early as the Ancient Greeks. They are also featured in many Mediterranean cuisines, French cooking, some Thai (massaman curry) and Indian dishes (Biryani) as well as the dishes throughout the Americas.
Bay leaf is also an ingrdient of Garam Masala.
They are a great addition to any garden. They require a sunny position and can grow quite large given the correct care.
We use branches of the bay tree within our pantry to keep meal moths (weavels) flies, cockroaches and silverfish under control. The bay leaf has repellant properties.
Want something sweet after dinner? Try this Mulled Fruits with Bay Spiced Custard
Petroselinum Crispum is a biennial plant in temperate climates, and an annual herb in subtripical/tripocal areas. Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained soil, with full sun. It grows best between 22–30 °C and usually is grown from seed. Germination is slow, taking four to six to eight weeks.
It is native to the central Mediterranean region.
Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish, finely chopped and sprinkled on top of potato dishes, risottos, steaks, chicken, as well as stews and casseroles. Continental parsley is widely ised in Middle Eastern cooking, European, Brazilian and American cooking. It is the main ingredient in Salsa verde (minced parsley, basil, capers, anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil) served on fish; used in England in their roux based Parsley sauces; a main ingredient in a traditional bouquet garni; a main ingredient in Gremolata (a traditional accompaniment for Osso bucco made with parlsey, garlic and lemon juice; and the main ingredient in Tabbouleh, a popular middle eastern salad.
Want to try something different to a risotto for a great mid week meal? This Pea and Parsley Risoni is sure to be a hit.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a member of the onion family, closely related to onion, garlic, leeks and scallions yet have the most delicate flavour. They have a slight hint of garlic, together with delicate onion like flavour. Chives are popularly paired with potatoes and sour cream. While Chives and Spring onions are similar, they are not the same; one is a herb, the other is an onion. Often they can be interchanged in recipes, but not always.
Chives are a hardy, drought resistant perennial. Whilst they can be grown from seed, it is long process to get it to a useable plant. The Chives will die off somewhat throughout winter, and not look as healthy as they do throughout summer, so if you want continuous supply, leave your chives in pots and bring them inside during the colder months.
Chives also have insect-repelling properties so they are great to have in your garden to control nasty pests. Love it.
Try this delicious Garlic and Chive Mash as an accompaniment to your favourite steak, or winter warmer.
If like me you can’t handle the cold, cooking in the kitchen is one wonderful way to keep warm….and you get to eat what you create. Nothing better!
Til next time,