Category: How To

Fresh Herbs versus Dried Herbs

Stew Leonards herb selection

Here’s a little primer on using fresh herbs versus dried herbs.

I prefer fresh herbs for many dishes, especially recipes that call for delicate herbs, such as basil, dill weed, chervil, chives, cilantro, mint, parsley and tarragon, which fade quickly during long cooking times. The best time to use delicate herbs is at the end of cooking or as a garnish. Stir in during the last 5 to 10 minutes, but no longer or the flavor diminishes significantly. Chopping helps releases more flavor components, a rough chop or fine mince, either is fine. These freshly chopped herbs awaken the taste buds and have a pleasing aroma.

Always use fresh herbs in cold preparations, such as salsa and guacamole. Dried herbs won’t reconstitute properly without heat and moisture, and the flavor is muted.

basil

Dried herbs are concentrated in flavor and are best for long, slow cooking times, such as our Mediterranean Lamb Shanks. These hearty herbs include bay leaves, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme. The moisture and heat of the liquid in a slow-cooked, roasted, or baked recipe rehydrates dried herbs and the flavor infuses the liquid, meat and vegetables nicely. A garnish of the matching fresh herb or one of the fresh herbs in a mélange, coarsely chopped or minced, further brightens and enhances any dish.

Mediterranean Lamb Shanks

Rule of Thumb: Dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor, so use 1/3 less than fresh herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh herbs, use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs.

dried herbs in spice drawer

Shelf Life and Storage

Fresh Herbs

Unfortunately, fresh herbs are highly perishable. Once separated from the root, they begin to wilt and dry out. The method I use for storing most of my fresh herbs is to gently rinse them in cold water, shake the excess water off (or use a lettuce spinner), strew atop a couple of sheets of paper towel, loosely roll it up and store in a sealed plastic baggie. Most herbs will last 3-4 days.

tarragon

Don’t buy fresh herbs without plans to use them immediately; they’re expensive, especially in the winter, when brought in from outside sources. Notice the size of fresh herb bundles as the growing season progresses – they can be huge – especially basil, which is the ideal time to scoop them up and make several batches of pesto for the freezer!

pesto

Dried Herbs

Dried herbs have a longer shelf life, though not indefinite. Store in dry, dark places, such as a spice drawer or cupboard. Countertop spice racks are not ideal because of the exposure to light. If you are uncertain about the freshness of a dried herb, or spice for that matter, open the jar and give a sniff. If the aroma is weak, the herbs are past their prime and need to be replaced. My go to source is Penzey’s, https://www.penzeys.com which has a store a few miles from my home. They are also have a mail-order business. For those herbs (and spices) that I use infrequently or in minute amounts, I buy the 2 ounce jar.

Use Both Fresh and Dried Herbs

Maximize flavor by using a combination of both fresh and dried herbs. Start with dried herbs in slow-cooked recipes like soups, stews, and sauces, while sweating the aromatics. The dried herb infuses the dish with a subtle flavor. Just before serving, stir in a good handful of freshly chopped herb(s) for a bright, fresh flavor.

mint

 

Photos of herbs were taken at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk CT.

Simple Syrup

simple syrup

Simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water melted over high heat. Make a batch and keep on hand to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, iced coffee or any specialty cocktail. It’s also a key component to making a sorbet or granita.

Simple syrups have a decent shelf life. Keep refrigerated in a sealed container for a several weeks. If mold forms on an older syrup, just like jams and jellies; discard immediately.

simple syrup

A rich simple syrup is double the amount of sugar to water (a ratio of 2:1). The increased amount of sugar increases the preservation and this syrup lasts up to six months refrigerated in a sealed container.

Use a small syrup container, similar to what you see in a diner, and keep it on a small plate to prevent any drips from forming on your table or refrigerator. Here’s a nice selection from Amazon.

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Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is quick and easy to make and has multiple uses, like iced drinks, cocktails, sorbets and granitas.

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cold water

Rich Simple Syrup

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cold water

Instructions

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, set aside to cool. Pour into a covered container and refrigerate.

Syrup lasts several weeks and rich simple syrup up to 6 months.

Notes

Discard if any mold appears on the surface of the simple syrup.

Keywords: simple syrup

Microwave Bacon

Cooing bacon in the microwave.

As much as I love bacon, it’s a messy business to cook up a batch. My preferred method is to cook Microwave Bacon using a microwavable bacon plate.

Cooing bacon in the microwave.

I’ve had mine a long, long time. I looked them up on Amazon and found better designed models than my round one. Why round??? They even come with tops to prevent spattering; I use paper towel. I also line the bottom with paper towel for safety reasons. The ridges do keep the bacon grease away from the bacon, but if you’re cooking up several strips, that’s a lot of fat, the plate is hot, and the grease is slopping around in the bottom – very easy to get burned. The paper towel soaks up that grease and prevents dripping.

Cooing bacon in the microwave.

Place a paper towel over the top to prevent spattering.

Crispy bacon or floppy bacon – which camp are you in?

The crew at Honeypie’s Recipes like floppy bacon, however my family members like crispy, really crispy bacon. The only thing needed to make crispy bacon is more time. You can easily make both floppy and crispy by removing some bacon earlier and holding in a warm oven (200 degrees F) on a platter or in a warming drawer.

Serve the bacon with our delicious recipe for Cinnamon Raisin French Toast.

Cooing bacon in the microwave.

Watch the How to Cook Microwave Bacon Video here.

 

Seafood en Papillote

Cooking en papillote is fun to make and intense flavors are easy to create because of the cooking method. I chose to use a mixture of cod, shrimp, and scallops for this Seafood en Papillote recipe.

En papillote simply means cooking “in parchment” in French. The Italians call it al cartoccio. Essentially, these are little packets of tender proteins with thinly sliced aromatics, herbs, spices and/or vegetables with a drizzle of acid, such as citrus or wine, a dollop of butter, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and tightly wrapped. The cooking method is a combination of baking and steaming. The enclosed package keeps the steam in, cooks quickly, infuses flavor, and keeps food moist.

The most important thing is to create a tight seal, so the bag puffs up. Using parchment paper can be a little tricky and aluminum foil is virtually fool-proof. The parchment paper, however, makes a more glamorous presentation – slightly charred paper that pierces easily releasing the aromas under the nose of the diner.

Folding the Parchment Packets

4 half-sheet parchment sheets (16 ½” x 12 ¼”)
Scissors
Large baking tray

Fold the parchment in half and trim to a 15″ x 12″ rectangle. Draw a half heart shape on each and cut with scissors.

en papillote

Open and lay the ingredients in the center, fold the paper over and crimp.

Crimping the Packet

en papillote

Start at the top of the packet and fold ½-inch over and crease well. Continue making ½-inch folds with a firm crease until you reach the bottom point. Crimp and tuck final pleat under the packet.

en papillote

The key to success is a tightly sealed packet to contain the steam.

Aluminum Foil Packets

Use either regular or heavy-duty foil that’s 20 inches wide. Pull 4 sheets that are 20 inches long.

Fold in half, open and place the food in the center of one side.

en papillote

Fold over and square off the side by folding the edge. Turn and fold each end, pressing hard to seal tightly.

en papillote

The advantages of foil is the ease of creating a secure seal and if you open the packet and the food isn’t cooked through, it reseals easily.

Watch the Seafood en Papillote video here.
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Seafood en Papillote

Cooking en papillote is fun to make and intense flavors are easy to create because of the cooking method. This Seafood en Papillote recipe uses halibut fillet, sea scallops, shrimp, and cherrystone clams.

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Category: Seafood
  • Method: Baking/Steaming

Ingredients

¼ cup white wine
¼ cup clam juice or fish stock
¼ cup minced shallots (2 small shallots)
1 tablespoon minced cloves garlic (3 medium cloves)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes
8  thin slices of fresh lemon
4  three- to four-ounce skinned white fish fillets, such as halibut or cod
8 cherrystone clams, thoroughly washed
8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 sea scallops, cleaned
8 fresh thyme sprigs
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into four pieces

Instructions

Parchment paper or foil wrappers.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the wine, clam juice or fish stock, shallots, garlic, salt, and pepper flakes in a covered container.

Place 2 slices of lemon centered near the midsection of each wrapper.

Set one fish filet on each of the lemons, set 2 clams, 2 shrimp, and 2 scallops, and 2 cherry tomatoes around the fish. Top with 2 thyme sprigs.

Shake the wine sauce to combine and pour a quarter over each fish and top with a one piece of the butter.

Crimp each packet and cook in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Serve in the package and let each dinner open. The aromatic steam is part of the experience.

Notes

Folding the Parchment Packets

4 half-sheet parchment sheets (16 ½” x 12 ¼”)
Scissors
Large baking tray

Fold the parchment in half and trim to a 15″ x 12″ rectangle. Draw a half heart shape on each and cut with scissors.

Open and lay the ingredients in the center, fold the paper over and crimp.

Crimping the Packet

Start at the top of the packet and fold ½-inch over and crease well. Continue making ½-inch folds with a firm crease until you reach the bottom point. Crimp and tuck final pleat under the packet.

The key to success is a tightly sealed packet to contain the steam.

Aluminum Foil Packets

Use either regular or heavy-duty foil that’s 20 inches wide. Pull 4 sheets that are 20 inches long.

Fold in half, open and place the food in the center of one side. Fold over and square off the side by folding the edge. Turn and fold each end, pressing hard to seal tightly.

The advantages of foil is the ease of creating a secure seal and if you open the packet and the food isn’t cooked through, it reseals easily.

Cooking Sunny-Side Up Eggs

sunny-side up eggs

I love a sunny-side up egg. The problem is that not many people cook them right. I want a sunshine yellow runny egg yolk, but I don’t want uncooked egg white on the top. Here’s my secret to cooking sunny-side up eggs!

My secret is to use an ice cube! It keeps the yolk high and prominent, perfectly runny and the egg whites cooked through.

Put a generous dollop of butter in a skillet over medium heat to melt. Once the butter foams, crack your egg(s) into the hot skillet and lower the heat a tad.

sunny-side up eggs

Pop an ice cube into the skillet.

sunny-side up eggs

Cover with a convex cover – like the one below.

sunny-side up eggs

The cover is going to jiggle and the butter sputter a little from the steam of the melting ice cube.

Remove the cover and you have a beautiful sunny-side-up egg!

sunny-side up eggs

Watch the How to Cook a Sunny-Side Up Egg video here.
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Cooking Sunny-Side Up Eggs

Use our fool-proof method to cook the perfect sunny-side up egg – an ice cube!

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 minutes
  • Total Time: 12 minutes
  • Yield: 1 serving
  • Category: Eggs
  • Method: Frying

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large eggs
kosher salt
black pepper

Instructions

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.

Once the butter foams, drop 2 eggs into the skillet and add 1 ice cube.

Use a convex lid to cover the pan and cook for 60 – 90 seconds.

Slide the eggs onto a warm plate.

 

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs with and without dairy

I googled for recipes of scrambled eggs with dairy and without. It was interesting to see how each method has die-hard fans. Does it make a difference if you use dairy nor not?

The water content of the egg white evaporates during cooking. Adding milk, especially whole or 2-percent milk, has added fat and water to keep the eggs moist.

Scrambled Eggs with and without dairy

Lack of dairy produces a scrambled egg that is a little drier and less fluffy, but with more of an eggy taste.

The difference is negligible, though. You decide what’s right for you.

See our post for an in-depth explanation on how to cook protein, which explains why we recommend cooking low and slow.

Scrambled Eggs with and without dairy

Beat the eggs well and season with salt and pepper before cooking for optimum flavor. A non-stick skillet requires less fat than a regular skilled. I prefer butter for the sweet taste it imparts, but you can easily substitute coconut oil or vegetable oil.

Watch the Scrambled Eggs without Dairy video here.

Adding a little milk or cream to your scrambled eggs makes lighter fluffier eggs. A tablespoon or two for 2 or 3 eggs is sufficient, substitute soy, almond or coconut milk, if desired. Final flavor varies.

Watch the Scrambled Eggs with Dairy video here.

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Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs with and without dairy

Scrambled eggs are delicious for any meal. For lunch place in a pita or wrap with some bacon and sliced tomatoes.

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3 minutes
  • Total Time: 8 minutes
  • Yield: 1 portion
  • Category: Eggs

Ingredients

2 large eggs
1 1/2  tablespoons milk or cream
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
2 teaspoons butter or oil

Instructions

Beat the eggs, dairy, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until frothy.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a skillet.

Once the butter is frothy, pour in the scrambled eggs and gently and continuously stir to create curds.

The eggs are done when all liquid disappears and the eggs are yellow and fluffy.

Notes

Substitute soy, almond or coconut milks for cow’s milk.

 

Winter Greens

Mustard Greens

My husband and I love greens of all kinds.  Hearty, leafy winter greens are readily available during the winter months; a welcome addition to our table. Look for collard greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.

See this post for two recipes using winter greens.

How to Clean, Store and Use

Look for greens that are crisp and vibrant in color. Avoid yellowing greens with droopy leaves and thick stems. To prepare, remove and discard the thick stems.

KaleChop roughly, including the more delicate stems.

 

KaleSoak in lots of cool water and swish around to loosen any dirt. Rinse thoroughly. Repeat until the bottom of the bowl is free of any grit. To store, lightly spin dry; some residual moisture is desirable, which keeps the greens crisp and fresh. Roll in paper towel and place in an airtight container or plastic bag for up to a week.

Not only are greens delicious, they are low in calories, a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, folic acid, and potassium. Greens mostly water (85-90%) and therefore shrink considerably during cooking. One large bunch will feed 2 people, so judge accordingly when purchasing.

Each green has a distinctive flavor and they are a great addition to soups, just stir in during the last 10 minutes of cooking. As a side dish, sauté with diced bacon or ham, onions, garlic. Add cooked potatoes, beans or rice for a heartier dish.

For post for two hearty winter green recipes.

Safely Blend Hot Ingredients

Blender Safety

Use these tips on how to safely blend hot ingredients to prevent an accidental splash of hot liquid in the face and chest.

  • Barely fill the blender halfway up the container. The blending action creates volume and the hot liquid oozes out the sides.
  • Make sure there is an even amount of liquid and solids in the container to blend smoothly.
  • Remove the smaller cap from the top and cover it with a kitchen towel folded in quarters or a thick oven mitt and be sure to hold the cloth or mitt over the hole with your hand. The steam creates pressure and pops the top off the blender and the hot liquid smacks you in the face.

Follow these simple tips and you’ll have a smooth puree and no accidents!

Try our: Curried Butternut Squash Soup.

Watch the video on How to Safely Blend Hot Ingredients here.

How To Sauté Chicken Breasts

finger test

Skinless boneless chicken breasts are so versatile. Here’s a simple way to sauté chicken breasts with only salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Pouring a vinaigrette or a little fresh citrus juice over the chicken as soon as it comes off the heat to rest quickly and easily infuses flavors into the chicken.

Make sure you pound the chicken breasts to even out the thickness and they’ll cook evenly. If you have time, let the chicken sit on the counter for 30 or 40 minutes to warm up a bit.

finger test

Check out the “Finger Test” video  to test for doneness when you don’t have a thermometer handy.

Watch the How To Sauté Chicken Breasts Here

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How To Sauté Chicken Breasts

sauteed chicken breast

Skinless boneless chicken breasts are so versatile. Here’s a simple way to sauté chicken breasts with only salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Pouring a vinaigrette or a little fresh citrus juice over the chicken as soon as it comes off the heat to rest quickly and easily infuses flavors into the chicken.

  • Author: Trish Lobenfeld
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 20 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Saute

Ingredients

  • 1 whole skinless, boneless chicken breast, split
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. Pound each breast to even thickness for even cooking with a meat pounder or heavy-bottomed pan. Be sure to cover the chicken with film first to prevent splattering.
  2. Season each breast, both sides, with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the oil over high heat in a skillet large enough to hold all the chicken, or cook in batches.
  4. Lay the chicken breasts in the pan and cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Turn and cook for 2 minutes.*
  6. Be sure to rest the chicken; then slice on the bias or serve whole.

Notes

Timing will varie depending on the thickness and temperature of the chicken.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4

 

 

How To Blind Bake a Pie Crust

Blind baking

Not all pie fillings require baking, but the pie crust certainly does. Use this simple technique to blind bake a pie crust before adding the filling.

To blind bake a pie crust, place the dough in a pie dish, crimp and then use a fork to gently poke holes around the sides and bottom of the dough. This allows steam to escape and prevents the bottom of the pie dough rising into a small hill.

Blind bakingPlace a piece of plastic wrap, no worries, it doesn’t melt, parchment paper or foil in the bottom of the unbaked shell and fill with pie weights. Pie weights are sold in stores in small quantities and tend to be expensive. An excellent and inexpensive alternative is a one-pound package of dried beans. Cool the beans after removing and store in a covered container for reuse.
The cooking takes place in two stages:

  1. Baking with the beans in the shell and removing about 20 minutes in.
  2. Return the pie shell, without the beans or liner, and continue baking until golden brown.

Cool the shell before adding filling.

On occasion, it pays to blind bake a pie crust with a filling that needs to be cooked, such as quiche, which makes the bottom crust soggy. See our recipe for Bacon Spinach Quiche.

Blind baking

See the How To Blind Bake a Pastry Crust Here.

How to Finger Test a Chicken Breast for Doneness

Finger Test

Here’s a quick tip on how to finger test chicken breasts for doneness with your finger.

Sometimes we find ourselves without the proper tools at hand and need to improvise. Perhaps you’re at a friends house cooking or camping and don’t have an instant read thermometer. Here’s a little tip to help you out.

Finger test

Cutting the breast is an alternative, but it releases all those precious juices and dries it out. Use this method as a last resort if you’re still unsure.

Note: The chicken breasts should be white and juices should be clear (no red); pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness helps and aids in more precise cooking.

Here’s our post on how to sauté chicken breasts.

Watch the “Finger Test” Video Here.

 

Hard Boiled Egg

eggs

The key to a successful hard boiled egg is gentle heat and slow cooking. By using this method, the egg is moist and tender with no off odor and a perfectly yellow egg yolk.

Overexposure to high heat releases sulfur from the egg white and iron from the yolk, which results in that unpleasant odor and gray-green coloration on the outer yolk.

Place eggs in a pan large enough to hold the eggs so they are covered by two inches of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.

Plunge the eggs into an ice bath and let cool completely.

Crack and peel for delicate and delicious hard boiled eggs!

Here’s a recipe for Curried Devil Eggs.