Best Way to Extend the Life of Your Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are very important in my cooking. They bring such a bright yet delicate flavour to my dishes. I would always go for fresh instead of dried herbs as there is just no comparison.
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However, unless you grow your own and cut out what you need, the fresh herbs you buy in stores usually come in quite a big bunch. You store them in the fridge and they will most likely be wilted or turned brown the next day. Here is a quick guide to how to store your fresh herbs so that they retain their freshness longer.
Elements that affect how fast your herbs wilt are moisture, light, temperature and level of oxygen. The wrong balance of these things can cause your fresh herbs to turn slimy (too much moisture), dry (too little moisture), yellow (direct/excess light) and or brown (too cold or excess of oxygen).

1. Wash and dry your herbs before storing

Rinse your fresh herbs quickly under cold water to wash off any dirt and dust. Then lay them out in a single layer on paper towels to dry or you can use a salad spinner to spin away the water. This way, your herbs are washed and ready for use anytime you want.

2. Soft vs Hard Herbs

There are two categories of herbs depending on the stems and leaves. Soft herbs have tender stems and leaves, like cilantro, mint, and parsley. Hard herbs have woody stems and firm leaves, such as rosemary and thyme.
For soft herbs, snip off the ends of the stems and remove any wilted or discoloured leaves. Transfer them into a glass jar with about 2cm of water in the bottom. Place the soft herbs into the jar, loosely cover with a plastic bag and store them in the fridge.
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An exception for this rule is Basil, which is also a soft herb. You can still trim and place them in a jar with water, but cover and store them at room temperature as the coldness in the fridge will turn the leaves brown.
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For hard herbs, arranging them in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel and loosely roll them up. Store the bundle in an airtight container or ziplock bag in the fridge. The damp paper towel will keep the herbs moist enough so they don’t dry out and the air tight container or bag keeps the oxygen out so they don’t turn brown.
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The Most Common Soft Herbs
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Basil (special treatment)
  • Dill
The Most Common Hard Herbs
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Chives
  • Oregano
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When Is the Last Time You Cooked Lamb for Dinner? Tips on how to cook and choose your lamb.

Lamb is not the kind of meat that everyone would like to cook at home. Its strong flavour and not quite knowing how to cook it makes many of us pass it up for more familiar and popular cuts. If you are a lamb lover, don’t let this unfamiliarity deter you from cooking a succulent piece of lamb. Because if you think about it, cooking lamb chops is no different from cooking pork chops and braising a lamb stew is pretty much the same as braising a beef stew.

150617 - Blog 2 - Lamb Ragu with Paparadelle

Slow-braised Lamb Ragu with Paparadelle

For all meats, whether they come from a cow, a pig or a lamb, the types of cuts are very similar because these animals all have 4 legs and move in the same way. Therefore the muscles and parts of their bodies that are used (or not used) are pretty much the same. The tenderest cuts will be the loin chops and tougher cuts will be their shoulders, legs or shank area. For example, lamb chops can be quickly pan fried just like pork chops or steaks. Tougher cuts such as leg of lamb or brisket area are best to braise slowly for 2-3 hours.

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The strong flavour (gamey flavour) of lamb that some people don’t like mainly comes from the fat. You either love this taste or you hate it. There is really no in between. So if you want to try lamb but cannot stand the strong flavour, try trimming away as much of the fat as possible. The strong taste of lamb is also more subtle if you cook the lamb to about a medium to medium-well, with just a touch of pink in the middle. Another way to slowly incorporate lamb into a dish is to use mince lamb, where you can start with mixing minced lamb with minced beef, pork or chicken to make meatballs or burgers.

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Pan Seared Lamb Chops with Port and Cherry Sauce

 

Lamb is actually a very versatile meat when it comes to flavour combinations. With lamb having such a rich and meaty taste, it is best to season the meat with fresh herbs and spices that will bring some freshness and contrast. Rosemary, mint and lemon zest are classic combinations. Aromatic spices such as curry, cumin, cinnamon and black pepper are good choices for warm stewing dishes. Lamb also goes very well with fruits such as apricots, pomergrante and any sweet chutneys.

 

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Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Black Olives and Dried Apricots

If you are still not convinced, take a look at one of my July cooking videos here – “Summer Roast Rack of Lamb with Vegetables and Fresh Mint Sauce”.

Batch 5 - Roasted Lamb Rack with Tomatoes and Olives_2_V2

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Turn Your Over Ripened Bananas into Healthy Snacks

I am completely guilty for always leaving the last few bananas sitting there one day too long and letting them turn into the wrong shade of brown. A perfectly ripened banana has a good firmness and it’s not too sweet. It is the perfect snack between meals or before you hit the gym as bananas are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. They also keep your blood sugar level stable (which will make you feel less hungry between meals) and give you the energy for your workout.

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Before we get into different ways to use over-ripe bananas, let’s talk about some health benefits and reasons as to why you should include bananas in your diet. Bananas are rich in potassium, which is important as this mineral helps maintain fluid levels in the body and regulates the movement of nutrients and waste products in and out of our cells. This fruit is also very high in fibre, magnesium, vitamin C and B6 which aids in digestion and promotes heart health. Eating banana will improve your mood and reduce PMS symptoms because it regulates blood sugar and helps produce the “happy hormone” serotonin.

So let’s get into a few ways of using those over ripened bananas!

Bananas act as a healthy sweetener in a number of recipes, which means you can cut back on the sugar and feel good about your snack.

 Morning Banana & Mixed Berries Smoothie

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If you have one banana and a handful of berries, you are minutes away from a delicious and healthy breakfast. I usually put almond milk or soy milk into my smoothie but you can use milk as well as yoghurt. There are also many superfoods that you can add to your banana smoothie to turn it into a super shake to start your mornings such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and wheat germ. If you are like me who cannot start your day without coffee, but don’t want to drink so many things in the morning, try adding a shot of coffee into your banana smoothie. You’ll barely taste the coffee but still get your caffeine and energy boost all in one glass!

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Other flavour combinations with bananas: mango, peach, papaya, pineapple, raw nuts such as almonds or hazelnut. And feel free to add some honey to sweeten your smoothie.


Easy & Quick Banana Ice Cream

Chop up your ripe bananas and freeze them on a tray. Once they are frozen, put the bananas in a blender with 3 – 4 tablespoons of cold milk. Blitz away and you’ll get a frozen treat right away. No fancy ice-cream machine required! My favourite toppings to add to this delicious frozen dessert are drizzling of honey, chopped almonds, sliced strawberries, and if I feel indulgent, some chocolate chips or chocolate sauce. You may also add more milk and turn this into a cold frothy banana milkshake.


Banana Pancakes 

Making pancakes for breakfast is a great way to start a lazy and relaxing weekend. And of course, one of my favourite pancakes to make is banana pancakes. Instead of just slicing up the bananas and placing them on top of pancakes, try to intensify the sweet banana flavour by mashing them into the pancake batter. Bananas are already naturally sweet, therefore you can cut back on the sugar that you normally would add to your pancake batter. You will also probably end up using less syrup when eating the pancakes, making this breakfast dish much healthier.

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Here’s a recipe from DayDayCook for an easy and delicious banana pancake: http://www.daydaycook.com/daydaycook/hk/website/recipe/details.do?id=34151


Banana Bread 

And lastly, who could resist a moist and delicious slice of banana bread? I love making this whenever I have the chance as I love the aroma of freshly baked banana bread. To clarify, what I bake is not really a ‘bread’ but more of a cake. (They are just in the shape of a loaf of bread). There are so many different versions out there, so find a recipe that gives you the result you want. I prefer to use olive oil or coconut oil for my banana breads, but you can of course use butter if you wish.

Try out my healthier version of banana bread where I use olive oil (or coconut oil), honey as a natural sweetener and whole wheat flour. This is a moist banana bread so if you want to keep it longer, store it in air tight container in the fridge for a week or freeze it up to 3 months.

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Ingredients:
80ml olive oil or coconut oil
115ml honey or maple syrup
2 eggs
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
60ml milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
200g white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
Drizzle of chocolate sauce (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans
  2. In a large bowl, beat together oil and honey until well mixed. Add in the eggs, mashed bananas, vanilla and milk. Stir until combined
  3. In another bowl, mix together whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Pour banana mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a big spoon or spatula until just combined. Don’t over mix, it is okay to have lumps.
  4. Pour batter into the greased loaf pan and bake in oven for 50 – 60 minutes (for the big loaf pan) or 30 minutes for the mini loaf pan or until a toothpick inserted into the center and comes out clean.
  5. Take out of oven. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning the loaf out and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature.

 

If you want another version of the banana bread, stay tuned for my July video on Chocolate and Banana Bread on my Facebook page!

For more cooking tips, recipes and kitchen ideas, visit my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/charmainecooks

 

Grilled Chicken & Asparagus Salad with Thai Inspired Dressing

I love Thai flavours. The sweet, sour and spicy of Thai dishes are always so perfectly balanced. With such hot and humid weather these days in Hong Kong, I thought a Thai style salad would be pretty perfect as a light lunch or supper.

One of the key things in Thai salads is that they usually use herbs as their salad leaves, mainly Thai basil and fresh mint. They would have one main vegetable, such as the green papaya, plus the various fresh herbs to make the salad even more vibrant and refreshing.

Here’s my Thai-style salad. Of course, feel free to mix and match the herbs and vegs to your liking.

Batch 5 - Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Salad_2_V2

Ingredients

6-8 thick green asparagus
1 piece chicken breast
1 green chili, seeded and thinly sliced
50g roasted peanuts, crushed
8 pieces cherry tomatoes, sliced
handful of fresh mint and cilantro leaves combined
Salt and black pepper to taste

Grilled Chicken & Asparagus Salad Ingredients

For the Salad Dressing:
1 shallot, finely diced
25ml rice wine vinegar
15g dark brown sugar
1 lime, halved
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 thumb size ginger, grated
1 small red chilli pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp sesame oil
60ml olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Salad Dressing

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Pat dry the chicken breast, drizzle some olive oil on top and season with salt and black pepper. Place chicken on baking tray and roast in oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until chicken breast is cooked through. Take out and set aside
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Snap off the tough end of the asparagus, then cut the asparagus into 2 inches pieces. Cut thicker pieces in half, lengthwise. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and place in cold water to cool down. Pat dry and set aside.
  3. To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients together and whisk until well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. To make the salad, put the cooked asparagus in a big bowl. Add the chopped green chili, sliced up tomatoes, mint leaves and cilantro leaves. Add a few spoonful of the salad dressing and toss to coat the ingredients.
  5. Arrange asparagus on a serving plate. Tear the roasted chicken breast into strips or you can cut them into thin slices. Scatter chicken over asparagus.
  6. Drizzle more dressing over the salad and top with crushed peanuts. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Batch 5 - Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Salad_v2

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You can also watch the cooking video on how to make this salad on my Facebook page!

Photos courtesy of DayDayCook