Cooking with herbs – The bay leaf

Cooking with herbs – The bay leaf

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being.  To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

The Bay Leaf
 (Laurus nobilis) 

Julius Caesar with laurelsHistory: The laurel or bay tree is already mentioned in the Ancient Greek mythology, where the beautiful Daphne is turned into a bay tree in order to spare her from advances from Apollo. Successful Ancient Greeks and Romans were given laurel wreaths for athletic performances and victories in battle, a symbol still  recognised today. The most famous Roman victor was Julius Caesar and he is often portrayed wearing a laurel wreath.

How to grow and use it: The bay leaf comes from the bay tree and can just be picked off an established tree. The berries of the bay tree are poisonous and clearly not fit for cooking. The fresh bay leaf has a very bitter taste, but once it is dried it  starts developing its distinctive, aromatic flavour. This is partly due to a substance called Myrcene and the essential oil ‘eugenol’, an extract also used in perfumery.

Dried bay leaves are primarily used in Mediterranean dishes and to a lesser extent  in the Indian cuisine. When used in the  crushed form the bay leaf has an even stronger flavour, but is difficult to remove from dishes. That is the reason why most cooks prefer the whole leaves, as they can easily be removed before serving.
Bay leaves are most commonly used  in  slow-cooking recipes, particularly soups and stews, casseroles, terrines (dish cooked in an earthenware container), pates, and roasts. Bay leaves should be used sparingly, as the leaves are quite potent. When properly stored, bay leaves can last for up to three years.

Bay leaves can also find use to keep mice and moths out of your home. In this case crush the leaves, put them into muslin bags and add them to your clothes drawer or put them near mouse holes. You will see them no more!

Cooking with herbs - the bay leaf

Cooking with herbs – the bay leaf

Recipes:

1)   Beef and Ale Casserole:

Ingredients: 1 tbsp. (table spoons) of cooking oil, 2 onions (chopped), 4 tbsp. plain flour, 1 tsp. (tea spoon) of sea salt, 2 tsp. dried mixed herbs, 1 kg lean beef, 1-2 bay leaves, 500ml dark ale or Guinness, 1 beef stock cube, 250ml water, 2 tbsp. tomato puree, 2 tbsp. caster sugar, 5 carrots (peeled and thickly sliced), 2 parsnips (peeled and thickly sliced), freshly ground pepper, 3 crushed garlic cloves

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. /Gas 4
  • Heat the oil in an oven proof pan or frying pan. Brown the onions and remove them from the heat.
  • Meanwhile put the flour, salt and dried herbs into a bowl and coat the cut beef (about 3cm cubes) in it. When all are coated add to the onions and return to the heat.
  • Add the ale (Guinness), water, stock cube, bay leaves, tomato puree and sugar into the pan and bring it to boil. Then carefully transfer it into the oven (if you used a normal frying pan, decant the mixture into an oven dish).
  • Cook the mixture for over an hour. Then add the cut carrots and parsnips and cook for a further 45min. (in total around 2hours). At this stage you can add more pepper and crushed garlic.
  • You can make a big batch and freeze it in portion, but then do take the bay leaves out.

2)   Aigo Bouido – French Garlic Soup:
This soup is easy to make and considered to be a tonic for the whole body. It cleanses the liver, improves the blood circulation and instills spiritual health. I find it also very tasty (never mind the garlic breath). This recipe is for 6 to 8 people.

Ingredients: 16 cloves, peeled, 1.5l (3pints) of water, 2 tsp of salt, a pinch of black pepper, 2 cloves, 1/4 tsp of crushed sage, 1/4 tsp of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 4 parsley sprigs, 3 tbsp olive oil.
For the egg mixture: 3 egg yolks, 2 tbsp olive oil  – hard toasted bread cubes and 100g grated parmesan cheese to garnish

  •  In a cooking pot, brown the peeled garlic cloves in the olive oil and add the other ingredients, then bring to boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  • Separate the 3 eggs, reserve the egg whites and whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until it is thick and sticky. Drop by drop beat the 2 tbsp of olive oils in to form a paste.
  • Meanwhile put trenches of brown bread sprinkle the grated parmesan (or gruyere) on top, then place it under the grill, leave there for a short time, until bread toasted and the cheese has melted. Place aside until serving.
  • When the soup is ready, take out the bay leaf, blend all the ingredients together and take it off the heat, then slowly whisk in the egg mixture and serve immediately with the toasted bread.

Another variation: Instead of the egg mixture you can also add 350g of peeled, sliced potatoes to the soup at the beginning of the cooking time, leave the soup until potatoes have cooked. Then take out bay leaf and serve.
Bon appetit!

 

Spices of Life – Turmeric

Spices of Life – Turmeric

Following on from my popular blog series

Cooking with herbs

I have decided to start a new series, called Spices Of Life. Over the coming month I will introduce you to the many benefits and recipes. I hope it will help you to discover a world of flavours out there and best of all most of them come with added health benefits.
Bon appetit !

We are kicking this season off with

Turmeric, the spice of good health

fresh turmeric flower

is part of the ginger family and predominately cultivated in India and Southeast Asia. The fresh turmeric plant has pretty flowers and the fruit is ginger- like.

In order to make the fresh turmeric last longer, the plant is first boiled for 40 minutes and then dried in hot ovens, finally it is ground into the orange-yellow powder that most of us know as turmeric. It has a warm, pepper-like earthy flavour and it an essential part of many curries. Its vibrant colour is also used as a fabric dye.

Turmeric’s best known health benefits are that it is anti-flamatory and a potent antioxidant.  

Read more about turmeric’s health benefits and supplements

Turmeric in the kitchen:

So here are easy to cook and tasty recipes:

Scrambled eggs with turmeric:

A great way to start the day. You will need:

½ garlic clove, finely chopped – 100g spinach leaves -4 large eggs – 50ml coconut milk- 2 tsp grated turmeric –  2 slices sourdough bread, toasted

    1. Put the coconut oil in a non-stick pan over a medium heat. Lightly fry the garlic, add the spinach leaves and wilt for a few mins – add a splash of water if they stick.
  1. Whisk the eggs with the coconut milk and turmeric. Season well. Add to the pan with the spinach and stir continuously for 5-8 mins until the scrambled eggs are at the desired consistency. Serve on slices of toasted sourdough.

Chicken Biryani:

300g basmati rice – 25g butter -1 large onion, finely sliced -1 bay leaf -3 cardamom pods -small cinnamon stick- 1 tsp turmeric- 4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks -4 tbsp curry paste – 85g raisins – 850ml chicken stock- 30g coriander (½ chopped, ½ leaves picked) and 2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds to serve.

    1. Soak 300g basmati rice in warm water, then wash in cold until the water runs clear.
    1. Heat 25g butter in a saucepan and cook 1 finely sliced large onion with 1 bay leaf, 3 cardamom pods and 1 small cinnamon stick for 10 mins.
    1. Sprinkle in 1 tsp turmeric, then add 4 chicken breasts, cut into large chunks, and 4 tbsp curry paste. Cook until aromatic.
    1. Stir the rice into the pan with 85g raisins, then pour over 850ml chicken stock.
    1. Place a tight-fitting lid on the pan and bring to a hard boil, then lower the heat to a minimum and cook the rice for another 5 mins.
  1. Turn off the heat and leave for 10 mins. Stir well, mixing through 15g chopped coriander. To serve, scatter over the leaves of the remaining 15g coriander and 2 tbsp toasted almonds.

Turmaric for Health and Beauty:
Surprisingly turmeric is also a fantastic skin cleanser and should be used by anybody who suffers from psoriasis, dry skin, dark circles under the eyes and wrinkles.

Here is a face mask I found that will help you with a clear complexion

Turmeric Face Mask for Glowing Skin compiled by Dr. Axe

Total Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 1–2 applications

INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon organic apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of organic, raw, local honey
  • ½ teaspoon milk or yogurt
  • [optional] 1 drop lemon essential oil or fresh lemon juice for additional skin brightening

Directions:

  1. Wash face and hands first to remove impurities and any make-up.
  2. In a small bowl or jar, mix the turmeric powder with the honey, apple cider vinegar, milk or yogurt and optional lemon oil. Try to get a consistency that will stick to your face. Be careful not to make it too thin as it may drip.
  3. Apply the mask carefully avoiding your eyes.
  4. Allow the mask sit on your face for 15–20 minutes then rinse with warm water.
  5. If you have any leftover, you can cover and leave in the fridge for your next application.
  6. Apply twice a week for best results.
Alkaline food and herbs

Alkaline food and herbs

HERBS AND GREEN VEGETABLES HELP YOU TO KEEP YOUR BODY ALKALINE   Only a few decades ago, the perceived wisdom was to eat predominantly a plant-based diet with the odd meat dish thrown in. This way of eating ensures that our bodies maintain a healthy acid-alkaline...
Planting, gathering and using herbs

Planting, gathering and using herbs

planting, gathering and using herbsIt is a wonderful experience, whether you have a spacious garden or just a sunny windowsill. There are so many varieties and they are useful in the kitchen, as supplements, and for beauty treatments. Here are some tips on successfully growing and using them. 

Growing herbs:
  1. Choose Your Herbs: Decide which herbs you’d like to grow. Some popular choices include basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Consider your preferences by what you’ll be using them for. 
  2. Select a Growing Location: Most herbs thrive in sunny locations, so choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you’re growing indoors, place your pots near a south-facing window where they can get plenty of sunlight.
  3. Choose Containers or Planting Beds: If you’re short on space, you can grow herbs in pots, containers, or even window boxes. Make sure the containers have good drainage to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. If you have space outdoors, you can also plant herbs directly into the ground.
  4. Use Quality Soil: Use a well-draining potting mix for container-grown herbs or prepare your garden soil by adding compost to improve its texture and fertility.  composting and soil tonics Check out our compost resources 
  5. Planting: Plant seeds or seedlings according to the instructions on the seed packet or plant tag. Be sure to space them appropriately to allow room for growth. Water the soil thoroughly after planting.
Keeping herbs growing: 
  1. Watering: Herbs generally prefer slightly moist soil. Water your herbs when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, but be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot. If you’re growing herbs indoors, be mindful of the drying effects of indoor heating or air conditioning.  For best watering dates use Water and Earth days. Some really thirty herbs may need almost daily watering. 
  2. Fertilizing: Herbs don’t usually require a lot of fertilizer. You can apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season to promote healthy growth. (1 tablespoon of coffee grind in a liter of tap water is ideal). Top up with your home-made or shop-bought compost. (see above). 
  3. Pruning and Harvesting: Regularly prune your herbs to encourage bushy growth and prevent them from becoming leggy or woody. When harvesting, snip off the outer leaves or stems with sharp scissors or pruners. pruning flowers  Use the flowering shrub symbol for the best pruning dates.

  4. Harvesting: Use today’s symbol for the best harvesting times.
  5. Pests and Diseases: Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids, mites, and caterpillars. If you notice any signs of pests or diseases, take action promptly to prevent them from spreading. You can often control pests by handpicking (keep the infected leaves and soak them for a week in water). Then spray your herbs with either insecticidal soap, or using my favorite remedy: 1/3 liquid soap, 1/3 IPA 70%, and 1/3 water. Spray thoroughly and leave for a few days. That should get rid of all the current pests. With very heavy infestation you may repeat this process. After a few days spray a small amount with the water of the infused leaves (strained and discarded). This acts as a kind of inoculation. Your herbs should return very soon to good health.  In case a new infestation appears, just repeat this process. 
  6. Winter Care: Some herbs are perennials and will survive through the winter, while others are annuals and will die back at the end of the growing season. For perennial herbs, you may need to provide some protection during the winter months, especially if you live in a colder climate.
Here are some popular herbs and their uses: 
  1. Peppermint: Peppermint is often used to soothe digestive issues such as indigestion, gas, and bloating. It can also help relieve tension headaches and promote relaxation. Peppermint is a great deterrent for mice and other rodents. Just sprinkle them around or use distilled peppermint oil to spray on entrances or holes where mice/rats might live. They hate the smell. 
  2. Chamomile: Chamomile is known for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties. It is often used to promote relaxation, relieve anxiety, aid in sleep, and soothe digestive discomfort. Good for all kinds of infection, from an eye infection to nail infection, etc soak a cotton pad in warm chamomile tea and apply to the infected area. 
  3. Parsley:  Adds Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and K to your diet. Help with blood clotting and infections and is a powerful antioxidant. Eat as parsley leaf salad, add parsley leaves to a salad, or drink as parsley tea. 
  4. Oregano: Reduces cholesterol, promotes healing, prevents bloating, and reduces inflammations. 
  5. Echinacea: Echinacea is commonly used to boost the immune system and help prevent or reduce the severity of colds and upper respiratory infections. It may also aid in wound healing and reduce inflammation.
  6. Lavender: Lavender is known for its calming and relaxing effects. It is often used to reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Lavender oil can also be applied topically to soothe minor burns, insect bites, and skin irritations. A few drops on your pillow will make you go to sleep and lavender oil poured on a small herb cushion and left in your wardrobe keep moths at bay. 
  7. Thyme: Similar to Verbena and sage,  helps you relax and go to sleep. It is good for your throat and lungs as regulates mucous. Thyme tea is beneficial for asthma sufferers. Contains antiseptic and antifungal properties. 
  8. Valerian Root: Valerian root is commonly used as a natural remedy for insomnia and other sleep disorders. It is believed to promote relaxation, improve sleep quality, and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

This is a vast topic area and one we will revisit at a later stage. In the meantime please check out the LWTM Lifestyle Calendar for the best dates to plant, water, and use herbs. 

When you see this symbol it is a good time (depending on the season) to either plant herbs, gather them, dry them or use them.
Here is a series called Cooking With Herbs to get you started. Just enter this search term into the blog search engine to find related articles.

When you see this symbol it is a good time (depending on the season) to either plant herbs, gather them, dry them or use them.
Here is a series called Cooking With Herbs to get you started. Just enter this search term into the blog search engine to find related articles.

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