These easy, herb-infused delicacies make great (and inexpensive) gifts.
Nothing tastes better than herb butter on brioche, popovers, French rolls or hot dinner rolls. Herb butter on grilled meats and fresh vegetables elevates a quick-fix weekday meal into an elegant dinner. Add our suggested stir-ins from the recipes above, or blend in your own favorite herbs.
• Garlic-Chive Butter: In small bowl, blend ½ stick softened butter or margarine, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives.
• Parmesan-Parsley Butter: In small bowl, blend ½ stick softened butter or margarine, 2 tablespoons shredded Romano cheese and 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley.
The price of herb-flavored oils and dipping sauces in gourmet shops might make you think they’re complicated, inherently expensive and difficult to make. Happily, this just isn’t true. You can make infused oils for the cost of some good cooking oil and a few herbs. In fact, you probably already have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now. As inexpensive as they are simple, they also make impressive gifts for any cook or hostess.
This project won’t take up much space, either. To infuse oil or butter with rich flavor, you need only a small amount of herbs. Plus, a dab of herb-infused oil adds a gourmet touch and layers of flavor to just about any savory recipe.
Herb-infused oils often are used to complement bread courses. But do be mindful of how much you’re consuming: Dipping oils taste lighter than most cream-based dips, but they still are 100 percent fat.
Flavored oils will be only as good as the oil you select for the recipe, so buy the best you can afford. Herbs can enhance the flavor of good-quality oil, but no matter what you add to a mediocre oil, the result never will be better than the ingredients.
I usually like the dark green, “olivey” flavor of extra virgin olive oil. I like to make a rich herb-flavored oil for dipping or seasoning, thereby reducing the amount of oil needed for in-depth flavors. Using a lighter-flavored oil, like light olive, grape seed or canola, will allow more of the herb flavor to be front and center.
Herb butter couldn’t be quicker or easier to make. I always keep some on hand, stored in the freezer. Herb butter provides a rich, flavorful addition to cooked vegetables or bread, as well as baked and grilled chicken and fish. Create an elegant meal instantly or add a gourmet touch to pasta, rice or potato side dishes with a slice or two of herb butter.
Important safety note for garlic- and fresh herb-flavored oils: Always refrigerate infused oils and oil-based mixtures of garlic and other fresh herbs to prevent serious health hazards. Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning caused by bacteria, has been traced to commercial and home-prepared mixtures of garlic in oil that were not refrigerated.
Refrigeration is necessary because flavored oils create the ideal conditions for botulism: a high-moisture, low-salt and low-acid environment in which food is stored without oxygen or refrigeration. Oil by itself cannot grow bacteria, but harmful organisms can grow in infused oils containing only trace amounts of water.
As for home-prepared mixtures of garlic in oil, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that these “be made fresh for use and not left around at room temperature.” Refrigerate and use within a week.
Refrigeration will cause olive oil to look cloudy. Before use, simply take the oil out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter—when it returns to room temperature, it will clear up again. Storing flavored oils in the refrigerator also helps keep the oils from becoming rancid. (The presence of botulism toxins and rancidity are not necessarily related. All fats and oils will become rancid given enough exposure to air, sunlight and heat.)
The safest solution is to use dried garlic and herbs, making just a little (1/2 cup) infused oil at a time. Botulism is of little concern when making infused or flavored oils used right away as hors d’oeuvres or for immediate home use. Fresh herbs and ingredients can be used for a mix that will be consumed within a short amount of time. Mix infused oils a day ahead of time and refrigerate to give flavors extra time to blend. Homemade infused oils can be stored safely in the refrigerator for one week.
For more easy bread recipes, try Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (St. Martins Press, 2009). Buy the book at motherearthliving.com/shopping.
Patsy Bell Hobson is a freelance writer and avid gardener from Liberty, Missouri.
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