Tag Archives: recipes

Herbs galore – now what to do with them?!

Several weeks ago I planted some very small herb plants, and the combination of April showers and quite a bit of sunshine with mild to warm weather since then has led to them exploding. Most of them have now reached the stage where they can be used liberally in cooking, and it’s fantastically rewarding, I find, to have all these fresh flavours so readily available throughout the summer.

I’m determined to make the very best of what’s out there this year, and for that reason I’d like to use this post to ask about your tried and tested favourite recipes or tips for cooking with fresh herbs. Yes, I do have recipe books and (obviously) an internet connection, but over the years it’s been almost always the case that my true favourite recipes have come as a personal recommendation from friends, family or acquaintances. ;-)

The picture shows just what’s outside the french windows in the living room – at the top there’s coriander (l), oregano and tarragon (r), in the hanging pots there’s an aubretia (just for decoration – not planning on eating it!) and a nasturtium (now with a stonking orange flower), then at the bottom there’s a jungle of (l-r) rosemary, sage, Moroccan mint, thyme, lemon thyme and lavender. Upstairs on the roof terrace outside the landing window there’s more lavender, parsley, lemongrass, strawberry mint, Thai basil and some (still very small, grown by M from seed) chilli plants.

The herbs I seem to be harvesting most of at the moment are coriander (curries and Mexican food), thyme (anything Mediterranean), tarragon (great in salad dressing and with fish) and that old stalwart, parsley. There are a couple of others, though, for which I’d be particularly grateful for culinary tips…

Sage advice, anyone?

I adore sage and use it relatively frequently with pork, and it also combines well with olive oil, garlic and parmesan to make a simple pasta sauce or (in greater concentration) pesto. I also love sage tea, though I have a very big pack of dried sage bought during the winter that I’m ploughing through for that purpose. The “problem” this year is that the sage plant has already grown to be absolutely mahoosive, with the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on such a plant. And for that reason I’d like to extend my repertoire of dishes that call for it.

What shall I do with all this (lemon) thyme on my hands?

M is a big fan of lemon thyme, and I have to say that whatever he cooks with it does indeed taste very good. However, my preference is clearly for the more ordinary variety – if I want something to taste lemony, then I’ll put some lemon juice or zest in it. However, maybe someone out there knows of a dish (or a drink or other use – it doesn’t have to be “food” per se) where lemon thyme works really well and has a definite advantage over its more down-to-earth relative.

Anyone got recipes that are worth a mint?

This is where my German friends are expected to say “But you eat mint sauce with everything, don’t you?” and I roll my eyes skywards and grimace. Asterix has a lot to answer for! In actual fact, I really went off mint at some point after childhood, and it’s only now that I’m really appreciating it. Yes, it IS good with lamb, and I use it a lot in Indian cooking (various curry sauces and raita) and Middle Eastern / North African dishes (e.g. tabboulĂ©). However, that still seems a bit of a narrow palette and I’d be glad if I could extend it somewhat. Tea made out of fresh mint is also delicious – I sometimes also mix it with fresh root ginger for a really zingy drink – but I’m looking for more strictly food-based ideas in this case.

Why are there no bad puns on “oregano”?

Oregano seems to be another of those staples everyone has in their herb and spice rack, but I can’t claim ever to have done anything very memorable with it. I tend to use it mostly in combination with other herbs, sometimes in salads or with Italian and Greek food. It really doesn’t have a strong profile with me, though.

~~~

I’d be really delighted to receive some tips and tricks for the herbs I’m a bit stuck on, and indeed on any of the others mentioned. And now I’m off to cook a curry!

9 Comments

Filed under Food

Digesting last week’s meal plan

Just a very brief post today – I’ll try to get something more substantial out later this week, but I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on the meal plan thing I did last week.

Positive outcomes

  • no messing around spending too long deciding on meals when tired.
  • shopping was quick and easy, even catering for the extra days around Easter when the shops would be closed.
  • varied and tasty meals, no sameyness.
  • fewer not-very-necessary appetite-led purchases, and overall it didn’t seem an expensive week in terms of food shopping.
  • the new recipe – Goan fish curry – was really fantastic, and I’ll certainly use the spice mix as a basis for a range of curries in the future.
  • I also made progress with falafels – they were significantly better than on my first attempt, AND I managed to use up a slightly over-ripe (but still delicious) mango to make a sauce that went really well with them and was a nice contrast to the yoghurt-based sauce.
  • there was definitely less food wastage through being able to foresee opportunities to use up anything I’d forgotten about.
  • the one meal we had out at friends’ made me realise – delicious and beautifully cooked as it was – that I’ve actually done a better job in terms of balancing food groups and general nutrition considerations (on the whole).
  • I had various people commenting on this idea over on Twitter, and a big bonus is that I actually got sent some really tasty looking new recipes, which I will definitely be trying out soon.

Negative outcomes

  • Silly me did rather miss that frisson of “Ooh, what shall I cook tonight?” spontaneity, even though overall it was a good thing not to have the attendant cluelessness.
  • If I do it again, I might want to be a bit less specific about exact components (though I did vary things a bit as it was – we ended up with rabbit on Sunday rather than lamb or chicken, but it was healthy and less pricy than lamb).
  • It’s made me think that I should have thought harder about what I eat over the course of the day, not just in the evenings – my breakfasts are quite variable and I could have done a better job adapting them to complement whatever was on the menu later in the day.

Still, overall the negative points are far fewer and pretty mild, really – I had to think a lot harder to come up with them! I think I’ll carry on with the weekly planning, making a few adjustments based on the points outlined above. I shan’t be blogging it every week, though (that would be tedious), but if I discover any interesting new recipes or combinations I might write about those from time to time.

2 Comments

Filed under Food

On (not) making a meal of things…

I’ve seen a number of bloggers doing a weekly Monday post about meal planning for the week (known as “Meal Planning Monday”) and thought I’d have a go, mainly as an experiment to see whether I fancy sticking to it and to see if it saves me any effort in thinking or ambling cluelessly around the supermarket during the week.

I’ve never got into the habit of planning meals a great deal in advance, mainly because I’ve not felt the need to: I’m not responsible for feeding a horde of people on a daily basis, I manage to shop and subsist fairly cheaply as I don’t buy much convenience or “luxury” food, AND I have five supermarkets, an organic food shop, a health food shop and the local market all within 200m of where I live. I very much value the flexibility and choices that I have and don’t see compelling reasons to give them up. When I was mostly cooking for one, my substitute for daily meal planning was to cook a big pot of stuff that would last me several days; nowadays, though, I quite enjoy cooking almost every day, partly because there are more often than not two (and sometimes more) of us eating together, and partly because I find it somehow creative and therapeutic.

However, there are things about the day-by-day way I subsist that sometimes bother me. Food waste is the biggest one. While I am, on the whole, really good at using up leftovers and using as much as one can of the ingredients I buy, very perishable foods do sometimes get the better of me, for example dairy products such as cream or yoghurt: while it’s no doubt better for the waistline to use just part of a carton of cream in preparing a meal rather than a whole one, there’s no virtue whatsover in letting the other half go rancid and nasty at the back of the fridge, only to throw it out in disgust some time later. I’ve improved a lot when it comes to yoghurt, but there’s still a way to go yet…

As for fruit and veg, you can only feel smug about the “healthy” content of your shopping basket if you actually eat the stuff… I have to admit that a significant factor here is laziness and the time pressure of going shopping after work, at the last minute: a one-stop-serves-all-purposes trip to the supermarket is often all I can fit in, and the supermarket I tend to find most convenient on the way home sells a lot of its fruit and veg pre-packaged in quantities that are frequently a bit too large. I’d do better to buy hand-selected quantities elsewhere (ideally at the market, in season) for the things I find hard to use up in the bulky pre-packaged quantities – mushrooms and spinach being good examples (and frozen spinach simply isn’t the same). I also need to re-programme myself to take some fruit with me to work – I really don’t have a sweet tooth whatsover and don’t see the point of leaving space for dessert – therefore I find it really hard to get a decent amount of fruit into my diet, except perhaps in very hot weather. I do like fruit smoothies, but I seem to labour under a permanent misapprehension that they are time-consuming and messy to make (stupid, I know, but the lazy part of my mind is the most stubborn, it seems).

Better planning of meals might get me to shop better in this respect, but I’m also hoping it might help me to balance my diet more evenly. If I know I’m having meat, cheese or whatever for the evening meal, I can eat something else earlier in the day. Yesterday, though, I had cheese three times, in an example of particularly poor planning, and the fact that I also cycled nearly 60km still doesn’t excuse that lack of variety, even if it means not all of it will immediately land on my hips. I also find that if I’m feeling tired, uninspired or particularly hungry after a day that has not left much time for eating, I am more likely to go for something meat-based that may also be quite fatty. Normally I have no problem using more white / lean than red / fatty meat and having a good representation of fish and seafood, vegetarian and the occasional vegan meal on the menu, but a bit of more careful monitoring might be a good idea nevertheless.

But anyway, enough sounding off about nutrition and food use: what exactly am I going to cook this week? Here is what I’ve come up with…

Monday: Potato and courgette bake

I bought a pack of five courgettes at the weekend and still have two or three left: I’ll certainly use up two in this recipe, as well as some potatoes that are still perfectly good but have been around for a while. Ditto for a handful of wild garlic leaves: I’m going to blend them with some fresh (home-grown!) sage and a small leftover amount of ricotta to add a bit of sauce to the bake.

Tuesday: Baked chicken breasts with asparagus

There was green asparagus on special offer today and I snapped up a pack as it tends to sell out quickly. It’s great baked in a dish in the oven with a little olive oil, lemon juice and garlic (if I still have a courgette left after tonight, I’ll chuck that in as well), and I’ll simply bake the chicken breasts at the same time. I may stuff the breasts with herbs or marinate them first – I’ll see what’s available. This is a quick and easy dish that is really tasty as well as being fairly healthy (depending what you stuff the chicken breasts with!).

Wednesday: Falafel with pita bread / wraps and salad

I love pretty much anything made with or out of chickpeas, and they’re a great basis for a load of meat- and dairy-free dishes (though I certainly have nothing against combining them with those ingredients, either, and will be doing so here). I made falafel for the first time the other week, having found several recipes that appealed to me because they used tinned chickpeas (something I always have in, as opposed to the dry variety) and were done in the oven rather than fried. I think I used this recipe but added a bit of olive oil to the mixture and then simply baked them on baking parchment. To be served with pita bread or wraps, a Greek-type salad, and a mint and yoghurt sauce. At some point I’d like to find a really tasty vegan sauce as an occasional alternative to the yoghurt-based one, but I don’t like tahini, hummus is too samey as it’s made out of chick-peas, and I don’t much fancy a tomato-based sauce with them. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment!

Thursday: Pasta

This will probably be penne, though I haven’t decided on a sauce yet – in all likelihood it’ll be based on tinned chopped tomatoes and whatever fresh vegetables are available – I always try to put plenty of veg in pasta sauce – though possibly with tuna and anchovies, or a small amount of bacon. Whatever it is, it’ll be a fairly simple dish as Wednesday’s and Friday’s dinners will be a bit more fiddly to make.

Friday: Goan Fish Curry

I’ve written before about my love of Indian food, and I was very excited when Dave brought this recipe to my attention. Not only does it promise just the kind of curry I enjoy most – coconutty and hot – but the description talks about all kinds of variants and different ways of preparing the dish. I’m really very excited about trying this and decided that Good Friday – traditionally a fish day – was probably as good a day as any to give it a go.

I’ll probably simply do rice to go with it, plus a raita of some sort, which will use up the rest of the large pot of yoghurt I’ll be buying for Wednesday’s meal (see? I’m getting better).

Saturday: tbd

Saturdays are most frequently a day for entertaining, and as I don’t yet known what is going on, who is around or who will get to do the cooking, I’ll leave this one empty for now.

Sunday: Roast lamb or chicken

I don’t make a big deal out of Easter and definitely won’t be scoffing chocolate all day, but I like the excuse of a special holiday to do a roast dinner. M may want to be in charge of this one and he certainly does a mean roast – I’ll let him decide whether it’s to be lamb or chicken. Whichever of us is chef de cuisine for the day, I think it’s more or less a given that we’ll have the baked/roast potatoes out of the Hamlyn Herb Book (whole potatoes sliced almost through at ~3mm intervals, brushed with olive oil & sprinked with rosemary and sea salt before roasting about an hour in the oven) and something green on the side.

How do you plan your meals, and what are your main challenges when it comes to trying to make sure you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet?

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Memes & blogging challenges