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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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

 

Baking Tips That Will Make You a Better Baker

I think baking is one of many people’s favourite things to do in the kitchen. I know a lot of my girl friends love to bake, whether it is homemade breads, 3-layer cakes or the simple breakfast muffins. I certainly started my cooking journey in the early days with baking. It was one of the first things they taught us in our home economics class – to bake.

Baking requires precision and for you to follow the recipes exactly. It is an art of science. Aside from being precise, here are a few tips that I’ve learned throughout the years that made me a better baker.

  1. Make sure your diary ingredients are at room temperature (unless the recipes stated otherwise). When your dairies and eggs are at room temperature, they will blend easier and also cook more evenly. If you did not plan ahead by taking the ingredients out of the fridge, you may try the follow tricks.

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  • Cold Butter: Put the measured amount in a ziplock bag and beat it with a rolling pin. This will help soften the butter and make it easier to blend.
  • Cold Eggs: Place the eggs in a bowl and cover them with warm water for 10 minutes to bring them up to room temperature.
  • Cold Cream Cheese: Leave the cream cheese in its foil packet and put it in a bowl and cover it with warm water for 10 minutes to bring it up to room temperature.
  1. Measure your ingredeints precisely. As mentioned above, being precise is very important in baking. So make sure you invest in proper measuring equipment, using liquid measuring cups to measure your liquids and dry measuring cups or electric scales for your dried ingredients. Sometimes the slightest difference in measurement can cause you a cake.

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  1. Mixing well. You should always mix your dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately first before combining them together. It is also easier to blend everything well together by stirring in your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients. And remember, do not over mix! It will make your baked goods very tough. Just stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated and then stop.
  2. Make sure your raising agents are active. By raising agents, I mean the most commonly used baking soda and baking powder. If you are not a regular baker, it is very easy to leave your baking soda and baking powder in your cupboards for too long and way pass their expiry dates. I know I am guilty of this. Once they are opened, their life span might be shorter than the date stated on the box. To check whether these 2 ingredients are still active and will make your cake and muffin rise, you can mix spoonful of baking soda with vinegar and a spoonful of baking powder with hot water. If both of these mixtures fizzes (i.e. you hear a fizz sound and see bubbles), then they are active. It is worth checking if these raising agents are still working, if not, your bake goods will not rise at all.

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These are simple tips that should help you to become a better baker. I hope this was helpful!

If you want to see more baking videos, leave me a comment down below.

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My Top 5 Must-Have Kitchen Utensils for Home Cooks

A well-equipped kitchen is very important for any home cook. There are so many gadgets and cooking tools out there to choose from, it is tempting to get a lot of them. However, some of these items are very specific and can only do one job. With limited space in the kitchen (especially in Hong Kong!!), we need to shop smart and only get the most useful and practical tools. Here is a list of my top five utensils every kitchen should have.

 

  1. Good quality Chef’s Knife

Every chef will tell you that the most important piece of equipment you can own if you want to be a good cook is a good quality chef’s knife. This is the one tool that is worth your investment. A knife is the most used utensil in the kitchen because almost every dish you make involves some cutting, chopping and slicing. A good chef’s knife should feel good in your hand, as some chefs would say, the knife should be an extension of your hand. Choose a chef’s knife that does not feel too heavy and is well-balanced in your hand. The grip should be comfortable and you should be able to rock the knife back and forth with ease. Make sure you always keep your knife sharp as cutting with a sharp knife is much safer than cutting with a dull, cheap knife because it is less likely to slip and cut you. If you are on a budget, there is no need to buy a whole set of knives. Get one good chef’s knife and you will be able to cut, dice, slice and filet with it.

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  1. Wooden Spoons and Heat Proof Spatulas

I like using wooden spoons and heat proof spatulas (usually made from silicone) when I cook as these are gentle enough tools that won’t scratch the surface of your pots and pans. They are also great for mixing batters when you want to bake cakes and cookies. And spatulas are great for lifting and flipping foods such as fish. Get a spatula with a thin front edge rather than a thicker one so that it can easily slide under the food.

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  1. Sieve

A good durable sieve is a very important tool in the kitchen. It helps you strain your cooked pasta and boiled vegetables, allows you to make smooth sauces and soups and also sifts your flour to get rid of the lumps. Sieves are made of a fine wire mesh with a long handle. I prefer the ones that are made entirely of metal, even the handle. A good sieve should have a hook on the side so that it can rest on the rim of a pot or bowl.

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  1. Good quality frying pans

For beginner cooks, nonstick skillets and frying pans are great tools to get you started cooking in the kitchen. But make sure to never use metal utensils on nonstick pans as this will scratch the nonstick surface. Stainless-steel frying pans and skillets are wonderful to have because aside from being able to cook on the stove tops, you can put these pans in the oven. Make sure the pan handle is also stainless-steel and not coated with plastic if you want to put your pans in the oven. A good size frying pan is a 30cm wide pan (12 inches). It is wide enough for a one-pan supper dish but also good for pan searing steaks or making frittata for brunch. Make sure you invest in some good quality frying pans and ones that feel good in your hands (nothing too heavy and with a good grip handle) as they can last you a very long time.

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  1. Electric Scale / Measuring Cups and Spoons

Cookbooks and online recipes are created (hopefully) so that you can cook the dishes as close to what the authors intend their dishes to taste and look like. This is where correct measurements of ingredients come in. Proper and precise measurements are extremely important if you love to bake. Therefore, it is worthwhile to keep one set of measuring cups, measuring spoons and a liquid measuring cup in your kitchen as all recipes will give you some sort of measurements and you will have to know how to get them right. Do consider investing in an electric scale as well since a lot of the cookbooks out there these days give measurements in weight (usually grams). If you are like me, who likes to create your own recipes, having the correct measurements for your recipes is extremely crucial!

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If you want to know more cooking tips and kitchen’s know-hows, don’t forget to like and follow me on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Charmainecooks.

Also check out my other blog posts (translated to Chinese) on the DayDayCook’s website!