A Chef in the Garden

Some of my fondest childhood memories took place in and around our garden.  The 20 x 30 foot fenced in plot behind our house served as our personal farmers market when we were cooking at home.  Tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, peas, beans, yellow squash, corn and a variety of peppers were the staples each year.  I remember checking the garden each day to search for ripe cherry tomatoes and sweet peas, which I would usually just eat off the vine.  Our garden salads were true to the word and the experience of watching the veggies grow and picking them at their peak of ripeness was something that I will always carry with me.  These days the garden is smaller, but it’s still a part of my life.  I am lucky enough to have a nice 10 x 10 garden where I grow my cooking essentials.  It consists of a blend of herbs and vegetables that I use on a daily or weekly basis.  It is truly a pleasure to harvest and share homegrown produce with friends and family.  And starting a small garden is easier than you may think.

Black raspberries ripening

Black raspberries. Photo credit: Ryan Kalooky

A Practical Herb Garden

Many of us simply do not have the time to maintain a garden at home.  If this sounds like you, I encourage you to start a basic herb garden.  Many herbs are easy to grow, add great flavor to dishes and are expensive to buy on a regular basis.  You can plant them in the ground if you have space, in pots on your deck or balcony, or even indoors on a windowsill that gets some good sun.  You don’t have to plant a little bit of everything – my advice would be to plant what you like and what you will use regularly. The table below lists some of my favorite herbs that are very simple to grow.

Basil A must for fans of Italian food.  An annual, but easy start from seed and to root from cuttings.
Chives Add to scrambled eggs or accent a seafood dish.  Be sure to use the blossoms, which are a great garnish for soup!
Dill Add small sprigs to your salad or add to a buerre blanc for a salmon or trout dish.
Mint Excellent for summer drinks, spring rolls, or combined with garlic, ginger and cilantro for a unique salad dressing.  Once you establish your plants they will come back each year.  Also very simple to root from cuttings.
Oregano A versatile herb that I use throughout the year in sauces, seafood dishes, and in salads.  Easy to grow and root from cuttings.
Parsley The flatleaf or curley varieties are excellent for adding a “green” flavor to any dish.  Use the entire unchopped top of the sprigs in salads for a refreshing, clean change of pace.
Rosemary A powerful, “piney” herb that compliments pork, beef and chicken.  Chop up and add to roasted potatoes or use the leftover woody stems as skewers for chicken kebobs.
Sage Use this excellent, unique herb with scallops or roasted chicken.  Try frying whole sage leaves for an inspiring garnish.  It’s not just for Thanksgiving time!
Thyme My favorite perennial herb – add to eggs, pan sauces, stock, and marinades.  Pairs well with garlic, onions, and potatoes.  Incorporate into compound butter.

Tips for Cooking with Herbs

So you’ve planted your herbs, allowed them to grow and mature, but simply can’t find the time or enough occasions to use them?  Below are three simple suggestions to help stretch your herbs throughout the year:

Aromatic oils – add a tablespoon of your favorite chopped herbs, 5 or 6 black peppercorns and a bay leaf to about a cup or two of olive oil. Heat until simmering, strain, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once cool, you can put the oil in a small container, label it and pop it in the fridge.  Use a spoonful to sauté veggies or to enhance a salad dressing.  Allow a few tablespoons to come to room temperature and add a pinch of salt for a fast, simple and tasty dip for fresh bread.

Compound butters– let two sticks of unsalted butter come to room temperature.  Fold in fresh herbs, garlic and freshly ground pepper (or any combination).  Roll up in plastic wrap (in the shape of a dowel – about the diameter of a half dollar or quarter) and place in the freezer.  When needed, you can cut “coins” off the roll and use for cooking.  This is a great method for inserting butter under the skin of poultry since it will hold its shape and not melt immediately in your hands like refrigerated butter.  The compound butter will keep for months and is great for finishing pan sauces or for a quick and tasty topping for a baked potato or steamed veggies.

Stock – don’t throw away those herb stems!  If you have leftover thyme, sage, or a few cloves of garlic, you can make a quick vegetable stock using a few scraps of onion, carrots, and celery as a flavor base.  After you simmer the veggies and herbs for 30 or 40 minutes, strain, cool, package and freeze.  You can easily make a few pints of stock for future use – most importantly, you won’t have to buy expensive stock from the grocery store next time you make soup.  I routinely make chicken stock and vegetable stock.  Make sure to label (name and date) your stock, as it will lessen in flavor the longer it’s left frozen.

Rosemary plant

Rosemary. Photo credit: Sean Kalooky

Happy cooking,

Chef Ryan

This entry was posted in Cooking, Fragrant Herbs, Gardening, Nutrition and tagged , , , , by Ryan Kalooky. Bookmark the permalink.
Ryan Kalooky

About Ryan Kalooky

Ryan was born in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina at an early age, where he took an interest in gardening and cooking. His experiences growing up in the family garden taught him many things, but the concept of seasonal cooking with ingredients sourced locally may be the best lesson he learned. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Biology, he attended culinary school at New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, Vermont. He has since gained experience in a variety of places, including a private executive dining room for a Fortune 500 company, an upscale Italian restaurant, a historic university hotel and a personal chef service. Today he runs his own private chef service and is available for catering, group cooking parties, dinners and private cooking lessons. His specialties come from his Mediterranean background and Italian influences growing up, a love of barbeque and smoked meats, as well as his culinary experiences in the South. When he’s not cooking or in the garden, Ryan can usually be found fishing, enjoying soccer or playing with his two dogs, Dempsey and Maya. He can be reached by email at rakalooky@gmail.com.

21 thoughts on “A Chef in the Garden

  1. Nice article and great info, Ryan! You make it sound so easy! Thanks. (Nice photos.)

    • Thank you Glenda! We plan to incorporate recipes (and more pictures) in the future – I hope you try some out!

  2. I can have a garden because of all the deer, but really enjoy cooking with my herbs that I grow on my deck. I also love mint.

    • Mary Ann, we all know every southern gardener loves mint. I have it here in my garden in Chicagoland, too. It gives fresh iced tea the best kick! Remember when Mom would make Mint Julips with the mint from our garden?

    • Mary Ann – I had a “deer” issue involving 4 okra plants that were stripped clean one morning – lesson learned. Bypass most animal issues with hanging planters or planters that are protected by a deck (your solution) or fence. You are one step ahead of everyone! Thank you for your comment!

  3. Good article, Ryan! Excellent points that Kendy and I will incorporate in our growing and use of herbs.

    • Excellent Greg! You guys always have such a wide variety of herbs. We can set aside a day to make oils and compound butters for the fall/winter. Perhaps chive oil to top a bowl of chili?

  4. I grew up in Portland, Oregon. we had a house on a tiny lot and half the yard was our garden. It was divided with clothes lines the entire length. Left over was a spitzenburg apple tree and dirt. One year Mother gave us each a fork and we scratched up the dirt to sow grass seed. We ate the dandelions. Joy Stark

    • Joy – I think most folks would be very surprised to know that there are a variety of edible items growing wild in the yard. While I do not suggest that readers “try” or “test” anything without knowing what it is and whether it’s safe to eat, dandelions are a safe bet and they add a nice bitter kick to salads when used fresh. When I was in Vermont, we gathered wild fiddle head ferns in the Spring and chanterelle mushrooms in the Fall.

  5. Enjoyed reading your article! Looking forward to cooking with you again soon!

    • Ditto – we need to get together soon. I imagine you have a vegetable bounty waiting to be consumed – I can help with that!

  6. Thanks Ryan for the informative post. Great ideas for cooking with and using some of those herbs!

    • Thank you Melissa! I see herby bread in your future … or, you could make a compound butter to spread on your home-baked artisan bread(s)? Either way I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy : )

  7. Mmmmm. Ryan thanks for the tips. We need to get up and smoke some meats. I’m working on a coconut milk red curry paste bbq sauce.

    • Thank you Chad! We definitely need to dust off the smokers and cook some meats! I plan to write on this topic in the near future, so keep and eye out.

  8. This is great, Chef Ryan! It’s always great to get tips on local ingredients/herbs. We will be sure to use this in our restaurants. Great work!

    • Awesome Ko! Herbs are typically expensive. They are delicate and they go bad quickly if not stored properly or used up right away. I recall that we (kitchen staff) were reprimanded by the chef because the weekly bill for herbs was $1,500.00!! This was for a high volume hotel, so they spent a good deal of money on all of their food, but a mortgage payment is a bit too high for one week, don’t you think? FYI – The stems of most herbs have just as much, if not more, flavor than the typically used tips/leaves so they are great to use in aromatic oils, but not so much for adding directly to dishes due to their sometimes woody texture.

  9. Good stuff, Kalooky. I hope to see some more postings from you in the future. I suggest some advice on meat smoking.

    • Thank you for your comment Greg! You are not the only one to suggest “meat smoking” as a topic for an article. We’ll see what we can do! I have learned from my mistakes over the last 10 years of using my smokers (I currently use two), so I believe I have a wealth of knowledge to share. Take care.

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