Friday, March 11, 2005

Magical Herbal Helpers

As I spooned some Feta with Herbs (see previous post) into a small container for my workday lunch this morning, a light bulb came on in my sleepy brain! I didn’t tell you, last time, about my super timesaver to prepare the herbed feta. My secret ingredient … the piece de resistance!

What else could it be – Herbes de Provence (Herbs of Provence to we English speakers), of course! Rather than pull several containers of herbs from the cupboard, to make my own blend of herbs, I often simply open a trusty container of already-blended Provencal herbs. First “spoonfall” (is that the equivalent, utensil-wise, of footfall?), the multiplicity of pungent herbal scents confirms to me that whatever dish this tasty herbal combo is headed toward, it will be a delicious dish indeed.

I love to get the real thing, imported from France, of course, if possible. Amazingly, and a real money saver, I often find imported herbes de Provence at discount department stores, like Marshall’s or T.J. Maxx, in their specialty foods sections. (I always check the expiration date and I have never had any problem with freshness.) Imported blends are also availabile, of course, at many supermarkets and gourmet grocery stores.

Better yet, some of my herbes de Provence blends have been purchased in France, by the Ingredient Sleuth herself! That is the ultimate. In either case, each time I open the container, visions of France spring to mind. Shopping, eating, touring delights from every corner of that mecca of culinary delight. Can you hear me drooling?

The sunflower-design napkin in this photo, in fact, came from a charming little shopping area in Paris. Called Maison Meunier, it is part of a row of single-storey, stall-like buildings just east of the Conciergerie, St. Chapelle church and the Palace of Justice, along the Quai de la Corse on Ile de la Cite (Metro: Cite) -- and a pleasant stroll from Notre Dame Cathedral. Come to think of it, I also bought some tasty herbes de Provence at Maison Meunier last year. The friendly clerk smiled knowingly as I paid her for my purchases; surely, she could see the "visions of herbal plums" dancing in my head! And the cheshire-cat grin on my face ....

Should you decide to concoct your own batch of Provencal herbs, rather than buy a ready-to-go blend, here is a typical mixture:

Herbes de Provence

1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried lavender
½ teaspoon fennel seed
1 pinch of powdered bay leaf

I consider the blended Provencal herbs to be a little dash of magic and also use them to flavor roasted vegetables, to enliven a quick-supper omelette and as a speedy, ready-to-use rub for roasted chicken and pork. And now, as I leave you to indulge in that tasty lunch that I packed this morning, bon appetit from your friendly Ingredient Sleuth -- always searching for little touches of magic to send your way!

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