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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cooking Big phase II: easier sides with some variety

Implementing cooking big, up until now has been mostly about preparing a large batch of the main entree. And that is going pretty well.

This week, I'm adding emphasis to preparing side dishes with ease, but still providing some variety. In particular, I'm working on the starchy side dishes, the breads, pasta, potatoes, and whole grains.

Earlier this week, I began planning an herb and garlic-crusted pork loin. I knew that I'd be cutting fresh herbs for this, including rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage.

When I set out to cut the herbs, yesterday morning, I had a thought to cut more than I would need for the pork loin, but enough for some potatoes to go with the roast, for herb and garlic roasted potato wedges. And while I was at it, I might as well cut a whole bunch of the herbs, and then later in the week, I could add some of the herb-garlic medley to the cooking liquid for brown rice, and some to cooked pasta, along with olive oil, and finally, on the last day, I could blend the remaining minced herbs/garlic with butter, and make an herb-garlic bread to use as a side dish that night.

As long as I was cutting all of these herbs, and peeling all of this garlic, I thought, I might as well use the food processor for the mincing. Brilliant! I make-ahead a large batch of mixed herbs, and I don't have to chop anything! (one of my least fave kitchen activities) After roasting the pork loin and some potato wedges, I still have enough fresh herb and garlic blend for another 2 or 3 nights of seasoned side dishes, just waiting in the fridge.

Here's what I used:

  • about a quart of loose-packed fresh herbs, still on stems (primarily rosemary and thyme, but also some oregano and a handful of sage leaves)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (also from the garden)
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • a couple of tablespoons of garlic granules, at the end (I didn't get enough of a garlic flavor in my blend)
After pulling all of the herbs off the stems, I processed them with the garlic and seasonings until finely minced. The resulting herb-garlic blend needed more garlic, so I used garlic granules. The yield was about a heaping cup of finely minced seasoning.

This idea of pre-blending herbs for various side dishes will translate well, in winter when all I have to work with is dried and frozen herbs. I can still mix these ahead of time, yet vary the flavor with each batch for some variety. Any of the following could be used: minced onions, garlic, dried or frozen herbs, spices, salt, pepper, dried chile peppers, sugar or honey. Basically, what I'll be making is a fresh and custom version of a seasoning packet, but for literally pennies per week's batch. 

I see great promise for using these on roasts, poultry, mixed in with ground meat for meat loaf, blended with a bit of butter and topping hamburger patties, mixed into bean burgers, cooked in rice and quinoa, tossed with carrots, onion quarters, or potatoes for roasting, or with cooked pasta just before serving, added to homemade soups and stews, mixed into mashed potatoes, or added to egg dishes like frittatas, omelets and scrambled eggs.

Anyways, I had to share, because I found a great way for me to use my fresh herbs a little longer this season, but with less overall work.


  1. Good ideas, Lili! I am a big herb lover myself and use them a lot. I especially love rosemary and use it on chicken, pork, potatoes and more. I like to dry my own and you triggered the thought that I better get on that. It is mid-October and our weather has been rather mild so I had forgotten to get some dried. Winters are rough and cold here so mostly my herbs don't produce all winter. They will die with the first freeze. I also took inventory of my herbs and rosemary is almost gone (dried kind) so I'll get on that tonight.

    I have been learning how to use my pressure cooker (Instant pot) and that has allowed me to make meals without a lot of planning and food is ready within an hour. I've had a fail in the kitchen on Monday night. I had bought fresh ravioli at the store and froze it immediately for a future meal. I boiled the water and threw it in and saw black spots all over the ravioli. I couldn't believe that the water could have burned it so I pulled that one out only to see many more spots. It was mold and the pasta had pink/yellow spots so I know it was rotting even as it sat on the cooler shelf at the store. I will no longer be buying that at the store. I threw it all away as it was much too dangerous to eat. So I got out my pressure cooker and made a lentil/chicken soup (with frozen chicken thighs) and in 30-45 minutes dinner was ready. Lentils often take a couple of hours and frozen chicken the same but my pressure cooker saved the day.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I'm so sorry about that ravioli. If you still have the packaging, you could take it back (the package) back to the store for a refund. Or, you could also just go to customer service and report what happened. I'm sure a store would want to know. If it was a Kroger, you could also submit a complaint online. I did that with packaged lettuce a year ago, as about 1/3 of it had gone slimey. They sent me a refund in the way of a coupon.

      But I do want to say -- what a great save for that meal, Alice! You are convincing me of the merits of a pressure cooker.

      Have a great day, Alice!

  2. You mentioned that you pulled the leaves off the stems of the herbs. Since you are using the food processor to mince them, couldn't you leave them on the stems? The stems should get cut enough that you shouldn't notice them, especially when cooked. I find pulling tiny leaves off the stems of some herbs very tedious so that's what I would probably try.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Good thinking! I could have done that with most or part of the oregano and thyme, but I think the rosemary stems are/were too woody. Part of oregano stems were too, but I could cut off the woody part. Yeah, pulling the leaves off the stems is tedious. Fortunately, when I was doing this, I had company in the kitchen and we chatted while she was getting ready to head out the door and I pulled leaves off the stems. Next time, I'll try just processing the whole thyme. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Have a great day, live and learn!

  3. Good thinking, Lili! Chopping is also one of my least favorite type of kitchen work. Glad you are finding good solutions!

    1. Hi Kris,
      thanks. You, too? I keep trying to find better ways to do some of my old things. Adapting.
      Have a great day, Kris!

  4. I process whole parsley, cilantro, sage and basil. Some stems of other herbs are bitter, and some are too fibrous. I have never tried thyme before but I think I will give it a shot since the stems on it are pretty delicate.

    1. Hi Anne,
      good point on the bitterness. When I dry thyme, as long as I haven't cut any old growth on the stem, the dried stems are thin enough, that they break up easily in my hands. So, I would assume that it would chop fine, too. I'll remember that about parsley, cilantro, sage and basil (although my sage stems are thick), for the future. Thanks.
      have a great day, Anne!


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