Janet's Notebook
Fresh New Ways to Enjoy Summer Herbs

Fresh Fruit Salad with Mint and Basil

If you're anything like us gals here in the Just A Pinch Test Kitchen, you've got oodles of fresh herbs springing up in the garden. Every year we plant 'em, maniacally anticipating all that herbaceous goodness. Fresh dill to bathe our cukes, basil for pepping up sauces, rosemary to kiss our new potatoes... oh, the possibilities! But like always, Mother Nature is more generous than we deserve, and we're left with more green deliciousness than we know what to do with.

Well 'Pinchers, we can officially file this under "Great problems to have." This summer we've stirred, chopped and roasted our way to finding some truly innovative new ways to deviate from the norm and start using those fresh herbs in equally fresh ways.

Take dill for example. With its pretty, feathery leaves and unmistakably earthy aroma, we love to plant it right outside the kitchen door. It's terrific on cucumbers or mixed into almost any mayo salad. Amanda Rathbun makes the most of her fresh dill by embracing the flavors of Greece. Her Beef Gyro combines the creaminess of Greek yogurt (or sour cream) with the lightness of garlic, tomato and feta cheese. "My husband and I love this sandwich," says Amanda. "I usually end up making them at least every other week - They are so easy to make!" By swapping pita for traditional bread, this sandwich can be as light as you wish. Hearty and beefy, yet perfect for a summer afternoon!

Another fun summer idea is to turn off the stove and turn on your Crock Pot! While we thoroughly enjoy using our Crock Pot year-round, it's especially useful in the summer when you're craving a hot meal but don't want to heat up the kitchen. This is where fresh rosemary can come in to really amp up your dinner game.

"This recipe came about as an easy dinner for me to throw together when I am home on my lunch break," says home cook Nicole Darty of her delicious recipe for Crockpot Rosemary Cornish Game Hen. I'm hard-pressed to think of an easier way to prepare such a delicious bird. Frozen hens can go straight from freezer to Crock Pot. Sprinkle with ample fresh rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and six hours of hands-off cooking later you will have a wonderfully tender - and impressive - meal to share. It's one of Nicole's favorite dinners, and one of our fabulous new recipe finds!

For anyone who loves basil as much as I do, you know that even the biggest fans often have a hard time making full use of the fast-growing plant. Simple pizzas and herbaceous sauces are a must for us over the summer but, thanks to you, we have been having a blast finding some fun (and sometimes unusual) ways to incorporate basil into our summer meals. Basil Infused Watermelon Lemonade, for example, is a new family favorite. Kim Biegacki served this recipe up on justapinch.com and we couldn't stop coming back for more! "This is an incredible tasting lemonade," she says, admitting that like us, this was her first time infusing a drink with basil. "I just love the delicate taste... I know the whole family will enjoy it. I hope you do too." Our only recommendation is to make sure you have plenty on hand - It goes fast!

Basil is also one of the stars of Robin Hearon's recipe for Fresh Fruit Salad. This time, though, basil shares the spotlight with the intense freshness of mint! "The [combination of] mint and basil gives this simple dish a very tasty and pleasant surprise," explains Robin. And she couldn't be more right. Not only do the herbs add an unexpected zing to this wonderfully simple salad, but their bright green color also adds extra eye appeal. "This is a wonderful and refreshing side dish that is perfect for any summer occasion," says Robin. Elevated by her masterful use of herbs, this truly is a summer salad to remember.

Whatever your herb of choice, consider sprinkling in a little something fresh and expected into your next meal. For once, flavor is actually non-fat! Now, THAT is something worth celebrating.

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Kim Biegacki - Jul 13, 2012
Thanks so much "Kitchen Crew" for featuring my Basil infused watermelon lemonade. All the other recipes sound so delicious and wonderful to grace the summer table for lunch or dinner too. The fresh fruit salad looks delish.
Mary Koles - Jul 11, 2012
Try roasting a thyme-stuffed chicken (very lightly stuffed) on a bed of thyme - tasty, tender and cleanup is super easy. I spread a small amount of canola oil on the chicken and roast it in my toaster oven: 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then 350 degrees until done (generally 45-60 minutes more). I also like to add rosemary, and sage or basil or half an apple, lemon or orange to the "stuffing."
Deanna Sofia Gordinier - Jul 11, 2012
Your so right puplove, on our local news they told us that mint in water will keep us cooler! How much better with lemon and lime!

Thank you Janet, I'm always looking for ways to use herbs, Kudos!
sylvia waters - Jul 10, 2012
I have a lot of spearmint growing around my house, and there is nothing more refreshing than striping off a handful of leaves and chopping them very fine into a big pitcher of limeade. I also like to squeeze the juice of one whole lemon into the pitcher. I can drink this on a hot summer evening and it really hits the spot! Just be sure to swish the pitcher before pouring after it has sat in the fridge for a while.