Herbs & Spices

Here is where I tell you about various herbs and spices that I think are great to have on hand in the kitchen and garden, fresh as well as dried and I also offer you different herb and spice mix recipes too…!

Grow You Own… Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)

Basil - The ultimate sunny window sill companion.

Basil – The ultimate sunny window sill companion.

Probably one of my favourite fresh herbs, along with Rosemary, is Basil (Ocimum Basilicum in Latin).  The smell, the colour, the taste, everything about it is just heavenly and it is the true King of Herbs! I use Basil in all sorts of dishes, I rip it up and put it in pasta sauces, sprinkle it on pasta dishes at the end of cooking, put whole leaves atop pizza, grind it up with some pine nuts to make pesto… it’s just so versatile, and so easy to grow!  All you need is a sunny garden, greenhouse or window sill and you are away.

I usually buy my Basil plants ready grown in a supermarket or garden centre, so I can use them straight away and still allow the plant to grow more leaves afterwards, you can grow it from seed of course, but this isn’t a gardening site, it’s a cookery site so I’m not going to go there! Typically, the kind of Basil you find find in supermarkets will be Sweet Basil, the type most commonly used in Italian cooking, but there are other types too, Thai, Lemon and Holy Basil, which are used in Asian cooking. And while you can buy ready picked basil leaves in packets, it’s definately a better option to spend 20-50p more on a whole plant.  Look for a plant that is bushy and is a beautiful vivid green colour and you can’t go wrong.

When you get it home, pop it into a flower pot and pop it in a sunny spot on a window still such as in the bathroom or more suitably, the kitchen.  Make sure you turn the plant every other day so the leaves down grow away from you, and keep it watered, it’s important to keep the plant from wilting so use a clean spray container and give the leaves a spritz once a day when you are watering the soil.

When it comes to using the actual Basil in a recipe, more often than not you will only need the leaves, take a pair of sharp scissors and cut in the middle of the stems of those which are yielding the largest leaves. This give the stem a chance to grow back and supply you with even more lovely leaves. You can dry it if you wish, take a few stems and after switching off the oven of an evening after dinner, just pop the stems inside as it is cooling, on a piece of tin foil, they will dry out as the oven cools down and by morning you will have some lovely fresh dried herbs for cooking with, just store them in an airtight jar.  Be warned though, Basil is prone to losing a lot of it’s flavour when it is dried and also when it is cooked, hence adding it towards the end of cooking.

You can tear it, or chop it, and either way you will immediately notice the pungent odour, it’s a lovely smell and one that you will find wafting around my kitchen on many a warm day!

So that’s Basil, a wonderful addition to any kitchen window sill…

Categories: Grow Your Own!, Herbs & Spices | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What The Heck Is Liquid Smoke????

Liquid Smoke

Liquid Smoke - Schmmokin'!

You’ve probably seen me now rattling on endlessly about the marvel that is Liquid Smoke, but do you have the slightest clue what it is? No, neither do most people I talk to about it INCLUDING one of my best friends in America where the flipping stuff is from!!!

Basically, if you love the smooth smoky flavours that only a log burning BBQ can offer you but you don’t have the time, equipment or indeed the inclination to cook using this method – you need this stuff…

It is essentially smoked wood in a bottle. You’ve probably already tasted it, ever had cured smoky bacon or processed hot dogs? Then you’ve probably already had Liquid Smoke without even knowing it.

So here’s the science bit… A substance produced from smoke passed through water, Liquid Smoke consists of smoke which is produced through the controlled burning of wood chips or sawdust (usually hickory), which is then condensed into solids or liquids and dissolved in water. This method is called destructive distillation and the solution produced can be then be modified to develop a wide range of smoke flavours.

Many chefs and cooks don’t advocate the use of Liquid Smoke, but I treat it just like any other herb or spice in the kitchen.  Overused it can be horrible, but used with care, it can produce some of the best flavours you will ever taste! I use it in pulled pork, rubs, pasta dishes, burgers, meatloaf, soups, sauces and more… it’s great in baked beans and it really is my best friend in the kitchen.

You can buy Liquid Smoke mostly online, I haven’t yet found it in supermarkets in the UK, but I do know that it is widely available in the US, you can import it or buy on a marketplace such as eBay, though be careful, you could end up paying more than if you visited a UK supplier such as Hot Headz.  This is the brand of choice for me, followed by Stubbs because they are the easiest to find in the UK, but when I visit Boston this summer I will be testing out a few other varieties!

Check out these sites for decent Liquid Smoke, I do prefer Hot Headz for a couple of reasons though,

1. it is additive and preservative free and

2. it has a handy little dropper in the neck of the bottle so you can’t overdo it!



Happy pretend smokin’!

Categories: Herbs & Spices, Quick post! | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Gyros-Souvlaki Herb Mix

Gyros-Souvlaki Herb Mix - These gorgeous little airtight jars are available everywhere for a few pence, mine cost me 95 pence each from B&M!!!

If you like to holiday regularly in Greece like the girls and I, then you will undoubtedly already know what both Gyros and Souvlaki are… And if you don’t, then I shall tell you!  A Gyros is not a thing you pick up every week if you don’t have a job, rather it is the quintessential Greek fast food, ground pork, lamb or chicken, mixed with herbs and cooked on a spit, sliced thinly and served on a flatbread with salad and chips, sort of like a donor kebab – but nicer.  A Souvlaki is also a kebab, but more like a shish kebab, where cubes of pork, lamb or chicken are cooked on skewers over a flame and served, again with flatbread, salad and chips, and of course the optional – yet delicious, Tzatziki!

The herbs used in the cooking of these meats are extremely simple to find over here in supermarkets and just as easy to mix together yourself for use on pork chops or Souvlaki of your own at your Sunday afternoon family BBQ.  You can buy them ready mixed in Greek deli stores or online on websites like eBay (just search for Gyros seasoning), but as I said, it is easy as Gyros to mix your own together, and here’s how…


  • 4 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper OR paprika (either sweet smoked or plain)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground unrefined sea salt (or normal salt if unrefined sea salt is not available)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Pop all of the above ingredients into a airtight container or jar, close the lid tightly and shake like mad!
  2. This mix will store nicely in a cool dry place for up to 6 months in an airtight container, but if you use it as much as I do, it won’t need to last that long!
Categories: Dishes of the World, Greek Dishes, Herbs & Spices | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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