Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by cooks, and that’s okay. I learned many other valuable lessons from my family that don’t involve cooking. I’ve always have known that I’ve wanted to cook and cook well, however. I remember watching old dubbed “Iron Chef” episodes or “Two Fat Ladies” and knowing that’s what I wanted to do.
When I moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment, I wanted to cook for myself, but was slightly lost and misguided. All that Food Network watching didn’t prepare me in the way that I had hoped. I considered myself a cook. I made spaghetti and jarred sauce! Bagged Caesar salad! Mashed potatoes! Chili from a can! I look back on that time with both nostalgia and embarrassment. But that’s okay, that’s the point—you have to learn.
I remember making chicken tortilla soup and adding lots of sour cream while it was still boiling away. I was left with soup with completely curdled sour cream. And I had no idea. I happily ate it and went on my way. I’ve had my fair share of “Pinterest Meals”. That site is definitely keeping the crock-pot and cream cheese business alive. It’s very attractive to people. Throw three different types of dairy products, chicken breast, and potatoes in and you’ve got a creamy, unappetizing-looking dinner ready in six hours.
That’s the reality of cooking though; it can be as easy or as complicated as you want. Just because those Pinterest meals are unappealing to me, doesn’t mean they aren’t meeting someone else’s dinner needs. Cooking is always a learning process.
All of that being said, the turning point for me was when I started using fresh herbs. It was such a foreign concept to me, but once I started, it made total sense and completely changed my cooking game.
Adding herbs creates flavor that no other seasonings can. They can add depth of flavor, brightness, acidity, etc. It’s very rare that I cook something without adding fresh herbs.
What’s also so amazing about herbs is that they are so easy to grow! In an apartment or house, large garden or no garden, you can grow just about any kind you’d like. They are easy to maintain, and you never have to worry about your store being out of basil when you’re making your marinara.
Besides Alex, caprese salads are what I love most. Last week when we were driving home from vacation, we even stopped out of our way to a waterfront restaurant so I could indulge my craving. They are quintessentially summer. Fresh, homegrown tomatoes, sweet basil, tangy balsamic, creamy mozzarella. It all comes together into a beautiful, simple, yet complex dish.
Sometimes I like to use cherry tomatoes and swap out mozzarella for feta.
Adding prosciutto and a touch of olive oil makes it a complete meal and the perfect beach picnic.
My morning breakfast always consists of herbs, namely chives and dill. Lots of herbs piled high on avocado, with or without a sunny side up egg, and some sriracha to add some heat. It’s easy, comforting, and so fresh. Chives add classic yet mild onion flavor and dill is always perfect with eggs and salmon.
A great method of sunny side up egg cooking can be found here at the Serious Eats website.
Thyme is piney, peppery, and a touch lemony. It reminds me of a milder version of rosemary. It’s perfect in sauces, in a roasted chicken, or a creamy dish. It’s the perfect addition to this Onion and Fontina Galette.
Fontina is an Italian cheese. It’s soft, creamy, and buttery. It’s similar to mild gruyere or provolone cheese.
Make a piecrust using this recipe of mine here.
Make a roux with flour and heavy cream
Add cheese, then onion mixture, and the rest of the cheese mixture.
Bake, then serve immediately, garnished with more thyme leaves.
Mint, like basil, is good in dessert or heartier meals. I love Ina’s Couscous with Pine Nuts and Mint.
Ina’s Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake is divine, and made even better with torn mint leaves on top. Homemade whipped cream, strawberries with liqueur, and fresh mint from the garden. There is no better dessert.
Alex’s favorite dish with herbs is simple Herbed Basmati Rice. He requests it for lunch very often! And I make it because it is simple for me, flavorful for him, and I add lots of chopped spinach to up the nutrition factor. It’s a rice dish I don’t feel guilty giving him.
The bottom line is whether you’re just starting to branch out of Pinterest-style crock-pot cooking, or have been cooking for decades, herbs will almost always improve your meal. Growing your own herbs, much like cooking, will reward you with a sense of accomplishment. You’ll save money, too. If you’re trying to up your elegance level, challenge yourself to use fresh herbs in every dinner you make this week. You’ll be convinced in no time.
- Fresh tomatoes
- Mozzarella, sliced or pulled off
- Fresh basil, julienned
- Good, aged balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Prosciutto, optional
Chop or slice tomatoes. Toss with mozzarella and basil. Add balsamic, salt and pepper to taste.
Thyme and Fontina Galette
- Slice of sourdough
- 1/2 avocado, mashed
- 1 egg
- Handful of dill, roughly chopped
- Chives, chopped
- Sriracha to taste
- Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
Lightly toast the bread. Mash the avocado onto the toast. Cook the egg sunny side up and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add dill and chives. Finish with sriracha.