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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty!
herb container

It's Thyme for Herbs!

Do you ever feel like sometimes the meals we eat just aren't flavorful and very exciting anymore? It's easy to get stuck in a rut and make the same meals week after week. But it's time to step out of the box and make a few new meals with fresh ingredients, including fresh herbs. You and the family will be glad you did!

Fresh herbs can truly pack on flavor. And the best part is they are easy to grow. The picture above is my husband's and my herb garden just outside our kitchen. We planted basil, thyme, oregano, chives and lemon verbena. We aren't exactly green thumbs, but even we would have a difficult time killing these plants. To learn more about how you can do your own herb gardening, check out University of Illinois Extension Herb Gardening.

So what will I use my herbs for? Basil will go on top of a homemade pizza, in pesto, pasta, a delicious bean and squash stew, and so much more! Thyme will be used in a balsamic marinade for meats and veggies on the grill and sprinkled on top of fish with a squeeze of fresh lemon. I love making my own spaghetti or pizza sauce using fresh oregano, but it can even be sprinkled in canned sauce to jazz it up. Chives will be sprinkled on baked potatoes and scrambled eggs and used in cornbread and cheese muffins. The lemon verbena can be used in recipes calling for lemon zest. I'll be steeping it with hot water to brew tea, flavor salad dressings and marinades, and to make a delicious fruit dip in the recipe below!

To store fresh herbs, trim off the ends of the stems and arrange herbs in a tall glass or vase with an inch of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag, place in the refrigerator and change the water daily. Herbs may last a week or more stored this way. To store dried herbs, place them in a tightly covered container in a dark place away from sunlight, heat and moisture. Most people like to have their spice cabinet right next to the stove, but if it's an area that's in line of steam or heat, it's not the best storage area.

If substituting fresh for dried herbs or vice versa, use 3 teaspoons fresh for every 1 teaspoon dried. If doubling a recipe, do not double the spices and herbs, or it may result in an overpowering taste. Have fun experimenting with all the different meals you can create with fresh herbs!

Fruit Trifle with Lemon Verbena Cream

3 peaches, peeled, pitted, sliced

3 apricots, peeled, pitted, sliced

2 plums, peeled, pitted, sliced

┬╝ teaspoon almond extract

2 packets of sweetener (Splenda®)

8 oz. neufchatel cheese, softened

6 oz. vanilla low-fat yogurt

2 Tablespoons lemon verbena

Toss fruit with almond extract and sweetener in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whip cream cheese, yogurt and lemon balm. Layer fruit in individual wine glasses or bowl and top with cream. Garnish with mint or lemon balm leaf.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutritional analysis per serving: 140 Calories, 6 grams fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 190 milligrams sodium, 18 grams total carbohydrate, 2 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams protein

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