Although a blanket of snow may have your herb garden tucked in until spring, that doesn't necessarily mean the end of fresh herbs. Nowadays, supermarkets sell little packets of most varieties of fresh herbs that generally are of excellent quality. It also is easy to use the Internet to order seeds, or small pots of herbs, to sit on your windowsill if you forgot to bring some in last fall. With pots of stock, soup, stews and other savory dishes bubbling away on your stovetop, herbs will add a special flavor - subtle, peppery, musky, aniseedy or even sugary.
Many of these recipes refer to a 'bouquet garni' in their list of ingredients. French in origin, there is actually no generic recipe for a bouquet garni, but originally, it was the trinity of bay leaf, thyme and flatleafed (Italian) parsley tied together with a long string in a little bundle, cast adrift in the cooking pot, allowed to simmer and infuse the dish with flavor, and retrieved and tossed at the end of cooking and before eating.
The reason for the string and bundle is simply because it makes it easier to retrieve. But if you've run out of string, make like a French chef and use a leek or green onion leaf or as a last resort, even though it does ruin the ambience, dental floss. This broth posy, or garnish bouquet, uses mainly woody herbs versus leafy, because they can withstand long, slow cooking methods. To enhance all three of these herbs, use fresh ones and crinkle or twist the leaves just before using them to release the best flavor. Dried herbs (which are stronger) can be substituted and tied in a bit of cheesecloth or housed in a tea strainer and dropped into the pot.
Individually, herbs enhance any culinary dish, but in combinations, they can add even more depth and character. Just remember to use them in moderation, or they may overpower the flavor of the other ingredients. Whatever you are making, especially stocks, you can vary the flavor and shape the individuality by adding your favorite herb, such as tarragon or sage, but remember that it is vegetable or chicken - not an herb stock. The key is kicking up the flavors to enhance what you are cooking and the proportions of each herb will vary according to the dish, the strength of the herb, the volume of liquid being processed and your own taste. In addition to flavor, herbs will keep you from being heavy handed with the salt shaker, plus add a bonus of vitamins and minerals without the added calories.
So shake off winter and create your own bouquets per the nature of your dish and your own whims - rosemary and mint with lamb, lemon thyme, sage and tarragon with chicken - and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Jane McLeod is a master gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office.