Fresh herbs all year make for great entertaining

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Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:00 pm

(ARA) - Turkey salad with fresh tarragon, crostini spread with homemade pesto and a refreshing mint mojito on a hot summer day. What do these things have in common? Fresh herbs. Whether cooking for a family, entertaining friends after work, or having a romantic cocktail with that special someone, fresh herbs can be the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.

Fresh herbs can take cooking and entertaining to the next level. This goes way beyond adding oregano to your spaghetti sauce. Did you know you can save money, time and waste of produce if you grow your own fresh herbs, right there on your kitchen windowsill?

Basil and parsley are two of the most common herbs grown in kitchens. This is because these herbs have a wonderful scent, are relatively easy to grow and are very common ingredients in both winter and summer dishes. Other popular herbs include dill, cilantro, chives, rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint and sage.

One note on mint - this herb spreads quickly and can become unmanageable in the yard. But mint does extremely well in containers - just make certain you keep the container separate from your other herbs.

With only a window ledge and very little effort, you can have fresh herbs at your fingertips. To get started growing herbs indoors, try these helpful hints:

* Location is key. Herbs like sun, so make certain your window area receives plenty of good light - preferably from the south. Stem herbs like oregano and thyme will send out new growth toward the sun, so also plan to rotate the pots to keep the plants growing tall. You might consider setting up a grow lamp to give your herbs additional light - especially in the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter and less intense.

* Grow those tiny seeds. Getting your herb garden started might seem like a monumental task, but the Miracle-Gro Culinary Herb Garden makes this process so much easier. Plant the handy seed disks - choose three from basil, chives, cilantro, dill and thyme - directly into the mini Gro-Bag, which contains Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. Keep the soil damp and your herbs will thrive. You can also try the Culinary Herb Kit to grow a single herb plant. Simply pour the nutrient-enriched potting mix - which comes in the kit - into the bamboo pot and plant the seed disk. Both kits come with recipes on the back, or visit www.groyourown.com for additional recipes.

* Water maintenance. As your plants develop, prevent over watering by allowing the soil to dry to the touch. When watering, use enough moisture to see water pooling near the container drain holes.

* Trimming and upkeep. If you use your herbs frequently, you probably won't need to trim off any dead branches or leaves. But if you do notice dead leaves on branches, trim those away to allow for new plant growth.

As your herbs grow along your window sill, don't forget to plan delicious recipes using these fresh ingredients - recipes that will delight the palate and impress your friends. Consider some of the following ideas for incorporating fresh herbs into your meals:

* Make your own pizza. Spread olive oil or sauce over pizza crust, then top with fresh veggies and chopped up basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano. A little cheese and you're ready to bake.

* Pesto is a great basil-based sauce, and when made, freezes well so you can have a delicious dinner all winter long.

* Decorate soups - both out of a can and homemade - with parsley, chives or to emit a bit of spice, cilantro.

* Add a couple basil leaves to a sandwich for some unexpected zip.

* Give salads a slight peppery taste by tossing the lettuce with cilantro, mint and chives.

* Freshen your drinks with crushed mint. It will give your lemonade or iced tea a surprising kick and make your mint julep even tastier.

* Can some pickles using fresh dill.

* Develop rubs for chicken and pork using dill or sage.

* Make a fresh bouquet garni by tying together assorted fresh herbs with thread. Then just drop into soups, stews or roasting meats.

* Don't forget, herbs aren't just for cooking. Give an herb in a painted pot as a hostess gift or use an herb topiary as a centerpiece to add interest to any gathering.

The options are endless, and as you browse through your recipe collection, you won't have to look far for the seasoning ingredients, since these are growing on your windowsill.

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