Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not just another "Herb Garden"...

Brick Chicken with Herb Butter

love summer for plenty of reasons -- longer days, flip flops, summer dresses, picnics, the weetle kids playing in the courtyard, frisbees & kites flying at the park, open air farmer's markets and the availability of lots & lots of head-spinningly beautiful fruits, veggies, flowers & herbs-- fresh herbs!

Growing organic herbs and living in a townhouse is not exactly the best combination. One year I planted them on my deck, for convenience and aesthetic reasons, and they did not thrive since it was partially shaded. The next year I tried it in my backyard, which is full shade, so obviously, no luck there. For a couple of years, I shared a garden with a friend where they thrived alright, but the garden was located almost 16 miles away, so that was not convenient. This year, I planted them in huge
terra cotta pots in the front of my house where they can bathe in the sun's glory all they want, and viola!, perfect spot for happy herbies!! Plus, I'm kinda adhering to the permaculture design here, ahem. I also love that welcoming effect it has for people who come visit. I usually catch them running their hands over or sniffing the rosemary by my front door. It makes them smile, as with me, and it is always a great way to start a conversation.

Earlier this season, I declared war against the little buggers that were feasting on my sweet basil. I do not know where they got the idea that they can sample the best leaves of my basil plant without having to help me water or fertilized them! And yes, they do sample, they do not even have the decency to eat the whole leaf before moving on to another perfectly good one!
Grrr... Thank the herb goddesses, the chile peppers-dishsoap-water combo I spray on the plant stopped them in their tracks. "Bwa-ha-ha!! Victory is mine!".

I have a good assortment going -- my rosemary, which I had for 3 years now, laurel (bay), savory, thyme, parsley, mint, oregano, chives, 'perilla' also known as japanese basil, sweet basil, thai basil and spicy globe basil.

Herbs are happiest when you use them. I have been cooking with them, adding them to my drinks (mojitos, caipirinha & tea), giving them away and cooking with them some more. I use them for pesto, salads, bouquet garni for sauces and stew, perilla for sushi, parsley and chives for garnishing & omelets to name a few. You can even use it as a baster when you grill to lend a mild hint of herb in the food.

Dinner tonight was Brick Chicken with
Herb Butter. You see, chicken is my least favorite meat, and the breast part especially. It's too unforgiving when cooked incorrectly, either you get a dry piece of crap or a bloody one, yikes! I've learned a few tricks to flavor it and keep it from drying out. I always brine my chicken for at least an hour, using sea salt & herbs (in this case, the same herbs i added to the butter). I then pat dry it with paper towel and marinate it for another hour in sunflower oil.

I made the herb butter by mixing a cup of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, chives & savory), sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a cup of unsalted butter in the food processor for about a minute. The herb butter can keep for about a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

I slather herb butter over everything -- bread, fish, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, lamb, steak, pork chops, veggies, pasta or rice. For special occasions and holidays, I put them in molds or cut them with cookie cutters depending on the theme/occasion/table setting or roll into a log and cut them into medallions, fancy!

In this recipe, I used about 3 tsp. of herb butter over the chicken before grilling.

I would normally use a brick, but I want to try a little trick that I picked up from then finalist (now this Season's winner) Melissa d'Arabian of Food Network's "The Next Food Network Star". In place of the brick, I used a cast iron skillet, and it did work perfectly! Before slicing & plating, tent with foil & let the meat rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to run back. I served it with a side of couscous and caramelized veggies sauteed with some of the herb butter.

Towards the end of summer, I will prepare the herbs for my winter stash. I air dry most of them except for the basil, which I chop & freeze in ice trays. I will infuse some in oil or vinegar for flavorful salad dressings and dipping sauces. Thus, I will still have a little bit of summer when the winter chill sets in.

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