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High on herbs

There's nothing to beat the aroma of a herb when introduced into the food it is to be cooked with. Most herbs are easily available, but look for those with a vibrant colour and aroma.

Hardy herbs like rosemary, marjoram, and sage will stay green and fragrant for a week or two, as long as they're refrigerated and don't get wet. But tender herbs, like basil, dill, cilantro, tarragon, and chervil, need extra attention.

Here's what you should do with fresh herbs. Wrap the trimmed but unwashed bunches loosely in damp paper towels and keep in a plastic container without crushing. Store them in the top shelf of the refrigerator. Check the herbs daily, discarding any that have begun to spoil. Wash the herbs only when you're ready to use them, as moisture shortens their shelf life.

To wash herbs, put them in a large bowl of cool water and swish them gently to release the grit. Lift them with a sieve. Spin them dry in a salad spinner or blot dry by rolling in a clean towel.

A sharp knife is absolutely essential for chopping herbs. The more tender the herb, the closer to cooking time you'll need to chop it. To gently release the flavour oils of an herb in a slow-cooking sauce, soup, or stew, lightly crush the sprig before adding it to the liquid.

When using herbs, remember that you can use the whole herb and not just the leaves, save the stems to mildly flavour a stock or sauce. You can deep fry the leaves for a nice garnish.

Herb butter

Herb butter enhances everything from grilled seafood and chicken to rice, pasta, and soups.

Ingredients: 1lb butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature; salt and black pepper to taste; 1/4 cup lemon juice; 4 cups assorted fresh herbs

Method: In a food processor, combine the butter, salt and pepper. Process until you get a creamy paste, scraping down the sides as necessary. Then add the lemon juice and process until creamy. Add the herb leaves and process again until well blended. Shape into 2 logs in parchment or waxed paper, roll tightly, wrap well in plastic, and chill (or freeze for up to 3 months). Cut off a slice and lay it on the hot food just before serving.

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