The Cheese or Charcuterie Board

Winter months give me the opportunity to preserve fall fruits.  My native state, Colorado, specifically, the Western Slope, produces, I think, the best apples.  Harvested in the fall, apples stay, wrapped in newspaper, fresh when stored in a dark, cool place about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (104 C).  I make four products from a nice bushel of those apples (other than Waldorf salad), 1) minced meat; 2) Fig Apple jam, 3) Fig Orange Jam, and Cranberry Apple Orange Spice (a.k.a. CAOS, as previously blogged). I tell you this, because the CAOS makes a splendid cranberry condiment (or is it a salad?) accompaniment to the Thanksgiving or Spring harvest turkey meal.  The fig apple and fig orange jams make the perfect pairings for a cheese or Charcuterie boards.

For this blog, I choose to call it “The Spread”, since one offers it to those at table as a “spread.”  Now, I do not doubt that you have not heard of the Cheese or Charcuterie Board.  I find them in many forms at restaurants, cafés, and bistros.  The hands that prepare “The Spread” takes what ever creative license they choose.  The mainstay of my Charcuterie Board, of course is cheeses and meats.  For the meats, I look for Italian salamis, Spanish chorizos (not to be confused with Mexican chorizo, which has the consistency of ground meat stuffed into a casing).  There is a pit smoked summer sausage that I use when available.  Occasionally, I use ham salad (as shown in the featured image).

The cheeses offer another avenue for creativity.  I like to fry Canela cheese.  Its texture squeaks against your teeth, and the browned parts give the cheese another level of texture and add a smoky flavor.  I love Brie in any form. Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk with a firm and buttery texture and flavor.  Goat cheese goes well with honey and/or jams.  Boursin cheese is another I like to put on the Spread.  I like to make Boursin cheese from yogurt.  Here’s how:

  • I carton (32 ounces/907g) plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Herbs to taste (I like to use a blend of dried basil, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, garlic granules, salt, and pepper)
  • Mix herbs, salt, and pepper in yogurt.
  • Pour all into a cheese cloth lined bowl.
  • Wrap and twist the top.  Bind with a clean rubber band or twist tie to make a bag.
  • Find a way to hang the cheese cloth bag (with yogurt mixture inside) over a container to catch the whey as it drips away.  I hang mine at room temperature during winter and hang it in the refrigerator in the summer months.  It takes a bit longer in the fridge.
  • Once you have a firm ball of cheese (think cream cheese or marscapone), then you have your very own homemade Boursin cheese at a quarter of the price!
  • Place the cheese ball in a ceramic bowl.  Serve with crackers or crostini.

Boursin

Other things to add to “The Spread”:

  • Toasted breads
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Fruits (Grapes and apple appear to be my favorites
  • Pickles (I like to pickle okra, cucumbers, and pears)
  • Jams (This is where my Fig-apple and Fig-orange jams make their appearances!)
  • Honey
  • Olives
  • Be creative!

One of my all-time favorite “Spreads” was a time that my friend, Lynn, and I spent the afternoon basking in the shade on a sunny day while sitting in her make-shift wading pool (a galvanized steel stock tank used to provide water to livestock grazing in a field).  Before plunging into the water, we prepared a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, blue cornmeal muffins, sour cream, caviar, hummus, carrot sticks, Caprese salad (chopped), and gravlox. We paired the caviar/sour cream topped corn muffins with vodka served in chilled glasses.  To stay hydrated, we filled glasses with ginger all and limes.  We spent a lovely afternoon watching hummingbird moths gorge on the nectar of petunias.  Here’s our spread:

Snacks by the pool stock tank

Do you see what I mean when I speak of creativity?  On another occasion, my friend, Donna, and I offered plates of inspired canapés, to guests, which I think would go well on a cheese board.  We took grape tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and basil leaves all skewered onto toothpicks.  We dipped them in my homemade pesto.  On another dish, Donna took thinly sliced Spanish chorizo topped with shaved Manchego.  These paired well with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or a sparkling Cava.  (Really, I am no expert on pairings.  I just know what I like).  I baked baguettes to go with this.

Tapas

As I write this, I am sad that I did not take pictures of all the Cheese/Charcuterie boads that I’ve prepared in the past three months.  I did take pictures of some ordered in restaurants lately.

The first comes from a restaurant in Wichita, Kansas visited with friends Phil, Paula, and Lynn.  I ordered a burrata (delicious cream and curds surrounded by fresh Mozzarella).  I loved that they crushed pistachios on top of the burrata, and the figs added a rich and subtle sweetness.  It should have been shared, because this was too much for one person.  Take a look at this.

Sample cheese board for one

Finally, I had this little spread on Austin in a little river-side bistro.  Dale ordered avocado toast to accompany my cheese board.

Austin cheese board

The most important thing to remember about the Cheese/Charcuterie board – linger over it slowly with friends.  Remember that term, conviviality? Building your “Spreads” lends itself to building memories with friends and family.  Take time to smell the ingredients.  Aromas tend to connect strongly to memories.  Have fun with it, and be creative.  I leave you with another view of a recent cheese board.  We paired it with Manhattan cocktails.  That’s my crocheting hanging in the background.  Thank you for reading.

cheese board with manhattans

Three Days of Venison On the Table

One of my all-time favorite meats is venison, deer meat.  I grew up in Colorado, and my mother did not like the taste of venison, so we did not get to enjoy it much.  My father purchased a license and went hunting every year, but I later learned that he mostly had gone out into the woods to look at deer and other wildlife (he was a self-made naturalist) while enjoying an occasional cigarette, something he could not do in front of my mother.

Colorado venison tends toward a stronger taste since the beautiful animals are often left with eating sagebrush, lichens, and similar forage that survived during high snowfall in the higher elevations.  Luckily, our Native grandmothers had the answer to any strong meats, such as sage-fed venison and mutton (old sheep): Juniper berries.  They harvested their juniper berries from the Rocky Mountain (Juniperus scopulorum) or Colorado juniper.  Natives used the juniper berries (ripe when they are a purple color) for neutralizing strong meats, for bad breath, for tea, and for coffee substitute.  I like to use one smashed berry to drop into my gin and tonic.  It brings out the flavor of the gin, which is made from juniper berries.

My other favorite meat is lamb.  Since I grew up eating mutton at my grandparents (another thing my mother refused to prepare), I learned in my adult life that lamb tastes much better.  An added bonus is that one of my best friends is a sheep farmer, so I have ready access to buying one or two lambs a year.  Our grandchildren absolutely adore grilled lamb!  I’ll write about that another time.

I know that my featured picture shows me with a buck, but I am not a trophy hunter.  I usually hunt does for their meet.  The buck in the picture, which I had an “any sex” license, but the does were not to be seen that morning.  My hunting pal is Adrian, who, along with husband, Bob, own the sheep farm.  Actually, we’re lucky that we shoot anything.  Bob says we talk too much!  We have been, occasionally lucky enough to “bag” a deer, however.

My venison menus these days consist not of Colorado venison.  Since I live in Kansas (the American Midwest), I get to enjoy grain-fed venison (white-tailed deer), and since they have year around access to farmers’ row crops, they are well fed and their meat is lean and sweet.  My husband and I process the meat ourselves.  Often, if one takes their deer to a meat processor, it’s processed with many other deer.  Processing it myself, I know it’s all my deer.  When I am not lucky enough to get my own deer, I have friends who will share, so we process with them.

Day 1: Venison Curry

Curry is a lovely flavor.  I brown the cubed venison.  In this case, I used the back strap meat, which is the length of loin that runs along the back.  It’s the “ribeye” in beef and the “loin” in pork.  The back strap is quite tender and lovely.  Sometimes, I like to bread and fry it, and fold it inside a homemade flour tortilla or flat bread.

  • Brown the cubed meat – cook until brown
  • Add half an onion – cook until translucent
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • Then add a three diced carrots and two diced russet potatoes (or what ever you like)
  • Add enough water to cover the meat and vegetables
  • Add curry spices – simmer
  • Add coconut milk to taste
  • Serve over brown or white rice

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Day 2: Venison Stroganoff

  • Brown cubed venison
  • Add onions and garlic
  • Add sliced mushrooms
  • Season with salt, pepper, and thyme
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • I like to sprinkle with a tablespoon (15 mL) of buckwheat flour
  • Add enough water to simmer and thicken
  • Add enough sour cream to make a nice thick sauce
  • Serve over noodles, white rice, or brown rice

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Day 3: Venison Spaghetti

This time, I use ground venison.  Since it’s quite lean, I like to add a pat or two of salted butter (or unsalted, depending on preference) so that it has some fat in it.

  • One pound (0.453 kilograms) ground venison – cooked in skillet
  • Half an onion
  • 10 mushrooms, chopped
  • two cloves garlic
  • two stalks of celery
  • Dried basil to taste
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of prepared basil pesto)
  • 1 bottle passata (strained tomato sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of tomato paste
  • 425 mL wine
  • Simmer all until thick
  • Serve over spaghetti pasta

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As you may have observed, I like to use my carbon steel wok.  I possesses a well seasoned patina, and nothing spills over the sides.  Oh, here’s how I paired my dishes:

  • Because of the sweetness of the curry, I paired it with Sauvignon Blanc
  • The stroganoff was paired with a whiskey old fashioned
  • The spaghetti was paired with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading me.

The Love Language of Food

Remember Gary Chapman’s book about the love languages?  I see truths in it.  Chapman’s premise centers on ways a couple demonstrate love to one another: words of affirmation, quality time, gift-giving, acts of service, and physical touch.  Actually, this communication and service go beyond couples in a committed relationship.  I think one can demonstrate loving language to any one.  Of course, there may be parts that are off limits.  For example, I have a co-worker that gives me vegetables from his garden, but I can’t imagine that we’ll ever exchange hugs!

So why is my featured photo a cauliflower steak?  I think I share the love language of cooking with my spouse.  We certainly share the desire to eat tasty and creative foods.  Cooking together, I suppose, falls into the love languages of “quality time” and “acts of service”.  Our meals together seem to be an affectionate time of the day, so I share our delicious meal tonight: grilled salmon, cauliflower steak, and rice with my ginger-soy-shallots-quince sauce.

First, I made a marinade for the salmon.  In the bottom of a rectangle glass cake pan, I added:

2 tablespoons (28g) sesame oil, 1 tablespoon (14g) grated ginger, 1 teaspoon (4g) garlic powder, grated pepper, 3 Tablespoons (42g) soy sauce, and a splash of teriyaki sauce to assure browning.  Mix it in the glass cake pan.  Then add salmon skin side up.  Smear the salmon in the marinade, and then repeat on the skin side.  Grill on the skin side down, with the grill lid closed, until  it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. (63 C) taken on the thickest part of the flesh.

I cook my rice in a rice cooker, and we usually put start it in the morning, and it stays warm until we’re ready to use it.  For the rice, I made a sauce.  We have a quince tree in the front yard.  It produces about six pieces of fruit on a good year.  Quince, related to apples, adorns a yard quite beautifully.  It blooms a lovely pink blossom in the spring, and turns a pale yellow in the fall.  The quince tree protects itself from predators with long thorns, which make harvesting the fruit a bit perilous.  My harvest take today was one piece of fruit.  Here’s the tree in the spring.

quince-in-bloom.jpg

The fruit packs a wallop in pectin, so it’s prized for thickening jams.  The one tiny, little fruit added pectin to thicken my sauce, and a sort of glutamate  flavor enhancer.  Here’s my recipe for the rice sauce.  I’m not going to call it a gravy, because it’s not heavy.  It’s a light sauce.

2 cloves garlic, 2 TBS (28g) sesame oil, 2 chopped green onions (set one chopped green onion aside for the final garnish), 2 TBS (28g) chopped ginger, 1 peeled and grated quince. (If you don’t have a quince, grate a half small apple), and 3 TBS (42g) soy sauce .  Cook all ingredients until it begins to thicken.  Add 1 cup (.23 kg) water.  Continue to simmer until thickened.

Rice topping

As featured in the header, the cauliflower was cooked in butter with some added salt and pepper.  Now it’s time to eat!

Salmon and the C steak

We usually eat our Asian-inspired rice dishes with chop sticks.  Here’s the rice.  To finish it, I sprinkled it with the chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.  We added a nice white wine, and watched Robin Hood with Russell Crowe (old movie).  Voilà!

Rice with my topping

Thank you for reading!

Cooking with Wild Game

First of all, I should tell you about my featured photo, which has little to do with my story today.  The community in which I live hosts a wide cross-section of refugees and other immigrants, so I like to visit their markets.  Keep in mind that my county is 40,000 people, and the city where I live has about 26,000 inhabitants.  Today, I visited the Burmese, the African (I’ve told you about their delicious tea-making), and the El Salvador markets.  From each store, I purchase a variety of cooking ingredients.

Pictured here is the betel nut, which comes from the areca palm (Areca catechu).  The nuts are known their stimulant properties much like coffee and tobacco.  In fact, those who make a regular practice of chewing these nuts expose themselves to a variety of ill-health conditions such as rotting teeth and mouth cancers.  I purchased the half nut that you see here.  I like the patterns.  The convolutions remind me of the brain.

I really want to talk about cooking with wild game today.  I am a deer hunter, because I love the taste of venison.  I hunt white tailed deer.  They are a beautiful animal: graceful and lithe.  Part of me rather mourns before I take the shot, and even more when the animal goes down.  I always thank the creature for giving his or her life so that I have a bountiful table.  Debra Hunting

Today, I made a wonderful marinara sauce for topping a plate of pasta.  My ingredient list:

  • I pound (.45 kg) of ground venison
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil (chopped)
  • 1 spoonful of OGB (my mixture of olive oil, garlic, and basil). Venison is super lean and needs some oil
  • 4 Tablespoons (56.7 g) tomato paste (I like to purchase large jars of tomato paste at the African Store. It comes from Instanbul)
  • 1/2 Cup (113.4 g) red wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Usually, I add mushrooms, but in the absence of the tasty fungi, I used my dehydrated mix of onions, mushrooms, and celery.

Let simmer on stove top until all ingredients are blended. I like to prepare my sauce in the morning.  Then I place it in the refrigerator.  At noon, we come home and prepare the pasta and re-heat the marinara.  Here’s my sauce:

Venison Marinara

If I would have remembered to take the picture of sauce on the pasta, it would have made more sense.

When cooking with wild game, the flesh often takes on the flavors of what the animal eats.  In Colorado, where I grew up, the high snowfall hinders access to grains, leaves, and other browse.  Consumers of that meat will say, “That’s really gamey!”  My grandmothers used juniper berries to neutralize the strong flavors, which worked beautifully.  It works wonders for mutton, too.  My grandmothers fed us mutton all my years growing up, and I never noticed the strong flavors, thanks to juniper berries (Rocky Mountain or Utah junipers).

In Kansas, where I live and hunt, the deer enjoy farm fields of sorghum and corn, much to the chagrin of local crop producers.  Kansas venison tastes quite delicious!  I hope you get to try it sometime.

Last summer, my friend Bob, when rabbit hunting.  When he returned, he called to ask if I would/could make something out of rabbit.  I said, how about rabbit cacciatore, hunter’s style rabbit?  I use passata (rich, strained tomatoes), garlic, fresh rosemary and basil, mushrooms, and white wine.  I cut the rabbit in pieces as one would with chicken.  Simmer until all ingredients are well blended and the liquids are thickened.  Serve with pasta, white wine, and lots of crusty bread to sop up the rich juices.  Here I am with a skinned rabbit.  My friend, Adrian, is married to the rabbit hunter, Bob.

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Hopefully, I have frightened you with this talk of eating beasts, large and small.

Thank you for reading.

A Meal for a Special Friend

In another life, I worked in Adult Education.  I worked with a fine group of women with whom I have occasional contact.  I was able to see a friend this past weekend.  Her name is Cheryl, and her expertise was early literacy for children and their, mostly, under-educated parents.  Working in adult education afforded my colleagues and me a chance to interact and work with people from around the world who came to our part of the state as political and economic refugees.  They came to our part of the state, because there are plentiful job opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Well Cheryl came for a town visit, and I was to be out of town when the old group planned a gathering – a homecoming, of sorts.   That meant I would invite Cheryl to dine with us Sunday evening.  “I will come if you don’t go through any trouble.”  Okay.  Keep in mind what is “trouble” to some is therapy for me – cooking.  So, here was my menu:

  • Grilled leg of lamb – slathered in a fresh pesto sauce before grilling
  • Caprese Salad – you may remember that I have a basil “tree” that won’t stop producing!
  • Freshly baked bread with OGB as a dip (olive oil, garlic, and basil) – featured photo!
  • Baked and whipped sweet potatoes
  • Crème de banane for dessert (an original recipe!)
  • Wine

How do you grill a leg of lamb?  We have a large kettle-style Weber barbecue.  Dale uses an “indirect” method of grilling large items such as turkey and leg of lamb.  Our friends, Bob and Adrian have a sheep farm about 13 miles away, so we always have lamb and venison, from the same county as the lamb, when I’m a fortunate hunter.  We’ll talk about venison another time.

Back to grilling the lamb.  I prepare the lamb by rubbing it with the pesto (which is well-seasoned) and black pepper.  The charcoals are prepared in a charcoal starter, which is a cylinder, which is about 2 feet tall (0.6096 meters), that has a wooden handle.  A small basket inside the cylinder holds the charcoal briquettes, which are ignited on an open fire.  Once the briquettes are glowing, they are ready to be place in the grill.  I neglected to take a picture of indirect grilling, so I borrowed an illustration from the Weber website.  Keep in mind that we roasted leg of lamb, NOT ribs.  The meat is never directly over the hot charcoals, but rather sits above a drip pan.

6-Hot-Charcoal-Briquette-Holders-in-Kettle-Grill-with-Ribs

So, you put about 25 coals on each side of the meat.  You must add newly heated coals about every 30 minutes. Once the meat reaches 130° F (54.44 C), take if off the grill and let it sit until it reaches 140° F (60 C).

Of course, I’ve written about my caprese salad, so that recipe can be found on one of my past blog posts, but here’s a picture of it.

Caprese and Pesto

Also, since I’m still working on using up basil, I decided to blend three large hands full of basil with 8 cloves of garlic and enough olive oil to make a nice liquid concentrate of OGB for later use.  I put the plenty in the freezer for later use.  Since it’s so very concentrated, I put a large spoon full on a bread plate to which I added a little more olive oil and a spoonful of  balsamic vinegar for a nice bread dip.

The sweet potatoes were baked, mashed with butter, salt, and a spoonful of pure maple syrup.  You may notice the color of the sweet potatoes are more like Yukon Golds.  Their dullness of yellow instead of orange is off-putting, but they are delicious!

Lamb and mashed sweet potatoes

I prepare banana cream for dessert.  To make it sound fancy, I used the French, crème de banane.  I found some very nice ripe bananas at the market, so I put three in a glass bowl to which I added 8 ounces (226.80 grams) of mascarpone cheese and four ounces (113.40 grams) cream cheese, one half cup of pure maple syrup, one spoonful of dehydrated orange rind (something I produce to flavor biscotti).  I whipped it all with a hand mixer until all was creamy.  I chilled the banana cream in individual “berry bowls”.  I was an interesting texture, which surprised the guests!  “Interesting!”  “Thank you!”  I think.

Banana Cream

Perhaps not as pleasing to the eye, I found it tasty and not too filling as a dessert.  We drank a rosé and a zinfindel with the meal.

Mostly, it was about reminiscing with Cheryl and getting to know her friends, Darryl and Ann.  At the end of the day, the food becomes a companion for conversation, which contributes to those convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

Growing a Tree

I saw some sort of add (video) on social media about a device called an “avocado boat”.   So, the premise was that you’d float an avocado seed in this little boat, and the seed would sprout (germinate) to, eventually, grow into a tree.

According to the video, you peel the pit/seed before germination.  First, one must figure out which end of the seed to face down and which side goes up.  I found an article that said the “fat side” is the bottom, so that is how I proceeded.  The little boats appeared to be a clever way to germinate the seed, but I didn’t want to waste my money on a gadget, so I devised a way to float the seed in the water without piercing it with toothpicks, as I’ve seen previously.

As an alternative to the “avocado boat”, I took a sandwich storage bag and cut a small hole in the corner so that the bottom of the seed would be immersed in water.  I held the bag onto a jar with a rubber band.  I  place the jars with their seeds on a railing on my back porch so that they would have light and warmth, but not direct sun light.

germinated avacado seed

As you can see, there is a nice root reaching to the bottom of the jar, and a nice stem reaching for the sun.  It takes a while, about six weeks.  With this kind of root beginning, the next step required placing the root in well drained potting soil.  My featured photo in this submission is the plant after two months.

I found it better to place the pot with the seedling indoors, because I have squirrels, and they help themselves to any seeds in my yard pots.

sprouted avocado seed

Perhaps, next year, I will be able to show a larger tree.  At which point, I may be able to move the pots outside.  I am not sure if these projects ever produce fruit.  There is the concept of pollination.

Thank you for reading.

Basil, and More Basil!

I’ve written about my basil windfall, previously.  I can’t help but write about it, again!  The fragrant plant and its deep green leaves, says, “summer” to me.  Never before, have I enjoyed this over-abundance of basil.  Now, let’s talk about basil.

Basil, also known as “St. Joseph’s Wort” belongs to the mint family, along with catnip, spearmint, and peppermint.  Most Italian-style cooks use basil in many dishes, because it goes well in tomato-based dishes.  I like to use basil in much of my cooking, and the marriage of tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil can be a sublime experience when used in soups, sauces, beef roasts, and grilled lamb.  The vegetarian or vegan can even use different combination for vegetable dishes.

Pino Luongo, one of my favorite cookbook writers (actually less cookbook and more stories to go along with the ingredients of favored recipes) talks about the way he uses basil in his Tuscan cooking.  He reminds us not to be tied, so much, to recipes that tell us how much of what to use.  Luongo, says, “Use your senses, and learn through trial and error.”  He also suggest that we “improvise based on your acquired knowledge.”  I come from a family of people who like to cook, so that’s an example of my “acquired knowledge”.  Of course, I add, use safe food handling practices.

Besides being in Italian cooking, basil has a popularity in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  Having just eaten Pho (Fuh, which means noodle) today, which is a wonderful soup with cellophane noodles in a generous beef broth (in today’s case), I delighted in the soup brought to the table in its cavernous bowl.  Presented separately, on a small plate, are bean sprouts, mint or basil, and a wedge of lime.  We place the sprouts and mint/or basil in the steaming bowl of soup and top is off with a squeeze of lime.  I’ve only had Pho with beef brisket in its broth with its condiments.

Holistic health practitioners recommend basil for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.  This comes from Medical News Today, and it adds that basil is “nutrient heavy” and calorie light, but then I cannot think of any herbs considered calorie heavy!

As mentioned, previously, I continue to find ways to preserve my basil, in addition to drying it for later use.  In the dead of winter, I love pulling my frozen pesto from the freezer, as green as the day I put it in.  Yes.  I’ve related that in previous blog entries.

Seasoned Basil Freeze

With the large batch of basil plucked from the plant, I decided that 15 jars of pesto may need to be enough (actually my plan is for 20-25 small jars before winter sets in), I decided to preserve some pesto as a seasoning.  I took one large bowl full of basil leaves.

Basil

All together, it compresses into 2 heaping cups full in the blender vessel.

To that I added:

  • 1/4 cup Mediterranean olives – pitted
  • A dehydrated mix of celery, onion, mushroom, red pepper – 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 3 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup of olive oil (add more if mix is too thick)

I blended this until nice and liquid.   I put it into the freezer, and use the “seasoning” in dishes throughout the winter months.  Remember, the olive oil preserves the basil perfectly, and (I say it again), it’s as green the day you thaw it as the day you froze it. Look at that color!

Seasoned Basil

I prefer freezing such things in glass.  Remember to label it, and put the date on it so that you use the oldest items first.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.