There is nothing like herbs, freshly picked from your garden. It's part of what makes summer eating so special. However, summer will end and so will your herbs. But don't despair--there is a way to enjoy your own herbs all winter long. There are many ways to preserve your herbs for winter cooking. Here are some of the easiest ways.
Drying is one of the easiest ways to preserve your fresh herbs. There are several methods.
• Wash your herbs and let them air dry. Keep the leaves on the stems. Tie them in bundles and hang them in a cool, dry place. After a few weeks, check them to see if they are completely dry. If they are, spread out paper towels on your counter and remove the leaves from the stems. You can store them in canning jars or anything that has a tight lid.
• Once again, wash your herbs and lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Dry them in an oven at 180 degrees for 4 hours. Leave the oven door open while you are drying them.
• Wash and dry your herbs. Lay them on paper towels on a cookie sheet and put them in your refrigerator. Check them daily to see when they are completely dry and crumbly.
• Dry them in the microwave. Wash them first and dry thoroughly. Then place them in the microwave on a paper towel, covered with another paper towel. Microwave them for 1 minute on high and then turn the herbs over. Microwave for another minute. Then continue in 30 second intervals until they are dry. Store in a zip loc bag or an airtight container. They will last for a year stored this way.
Freezing is another method of preserving your herbs. Remember, however, that frozen herbs turn dark and can only be used in soups and stews.
• Wash and dry your herbs. Either chop them up or leave them whole. Put them on a cookie sheet overnight in the freezer. Once they are thoroughly frozen, place them in zip loc bags or sealed containers and return them to the freezer.
• Freeze your herbs in ice cube trays. Just snip the herbs into the tray and fill the trays 3/4 full. Use about one tablespoon of herbs for each little compartment in the tray. Go ahead and freeze them. After they are frozen, add a little more water to keep them from getting freezer burn. Once they are totally frozen again, go ahead and pop them out and store in a sealed container in the freezer. When you need some seasoning for soups, stews or anything else, just drop in one of your cubes and enjoy the added flavor.
Making flavored butter with fresh herbs is another easy way to preserve herbs.
• Soften a stick of butter and mince the herbs you choose. Combine one part herbs to two parts butter. Mix the herbs and butter together and reshape the mixture. Keep it in the freezer and just slice off a piece when you want to flavor your soups, stews or vegetables.
• There are many combinations of herbs, depending on how you want to use them. Add some minced garlic to rosemary, basil or oregano and you have a wonderful spread for fresh Italian bread. Tarragon, has a lemony flavor, which when combined with butter, goes great on fish. Dill is another herb that nicely flavors fish.
Herb vinegars are another way of preserving your fresh herbs. These also make very attractive gifts.
• You needs bottles and cork stoppers to store your herb vinegars. Do not use any metal for storage and use only fresh herbs.
• Tarragon is a great herb for marinating veggies, whether you're cooking them on your portable gas grill or roasting them in the oven. Wash and pat dry the tarragon. Use whole leaves in the ratio of 1/2 cup of herbs to two cups of vinegar. Be sure to store them in a cool, dark place and allow them to strengthen for four to six weeks. Use them as you would use vinegar or lemon juice.
I have to include pesto in my methods of preserving herbs. Pesto is a combination of basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts. Sometimes it is used as a sauce for pasta, or as a flavoring for meats and fish. Here is a simple recipe from The Food Network.
Any of the herbs you have preserved will brighten and flavor your winter fare, whether you choose to cook on your outdoor grill or have to retreat indoors to the kitchen.
Author Bio: Stephanie hosts Always Outdoors, a website that explores outdoor recreation, gardening and green living. She reviews the Nikon Monarch Binoculars, which are excellent for outdoor use.