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Winter Herbs You Can Use To Infuse Your Holiday Feast With Flavor

Fresh Cooking Herbs - Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tarragon, and Bay Leaves in a brown basket with string

Leverage These 5 Aromatic Herbs This Christmas Because even The Grinch Needs More Than Garlic In His Soul

As Jack Frost nips at your nose and the holiday season arrives, it signals a time to seek out family, strive to create goodwill and to eat more culinary delights than you’ve had the 11 months prior (at least that’s how it feels sometimes in our family). But amidst the familiar favorites of grandma’s sugar cookies and other sacred family recipes, there’s plenty of meh meals that could use a sprinkling of Christmas magic, or if they’re out of that at Trader Joe’s you’ll just have to settle for these 5 herbs our chefs use to create nearly the same effect.

1. Rosemary: A Toasty Embrace of the Season

Rosemary, with its needle-like leaves and the potent aroma of a crackling fireplace, embodies the very essence of winter. Its warm, woody notes transform roasted potatoes into crispy, golden ornaments of deliciousness. You can also unlock the earthy, smoky goodness of other root veggies by infusing olive oil with a sprig of rosemary and drizzling it over them before baking. From working so close to the test kitchen here at R&R, we can assure you the fragrance filling your kitchen will create a mouthwateringly warm and welcoming aroma.

Fresh rosemary on a white background - cooking herbs
Fresh thyme on a white background - garden herbs for cooking

2. Thyme: A Hint of Citrus & Sunshine

Thyme, with its delicate leaves and the subtle whisper of lemon, is a wintertime staple with our chefs. Tuck it into your roast goose stuffing and its citrusy touch elevates the richness of the meat, creating a flavor profile fit for a Dickens novel. Whisk a thyme-infused butter into your mashed potatoes and they’ll replace the sugarplumbs normally dancing in heads this time of year. Even the most discerning relatives’ palates can be won over with thyme; all without you putting in overtime in the kitchen.

Fresh thyme on a white background - garden herbs for cooking

3. Sage: Earthy Sophistication

Sage, with its velvety leaves and heady aroma, adds a touch of sophisticated magic to your holiday table. Craft a savory sage butter and baste your roast chicken or turkey, infusing the meat with its warm, peppery essence. The butter helps the skin glisten like the sun on a fresh fallen snow, while the smell is almost potent enough to lift you off your feet. For a side dish that feels more like a main squeeze, garnish crispy sage leaves atop your butternut squash or sweet potato puree – a simple yet unforgettable touch that will leave your guests asking for seconds and thirds.

Fresh green sage on a white background - cooking herbs
Fresh green tarragon on a white background - herbs for cooking

4. Tarragon: A Touch of Intrigue for the Adventurous Palate

For those seeking a touch of intrigue, tarragon, with its licorice-like sweetness and aniseed undertones, offers an adventurous escape. This herb can be on the naughty or nice list in that it adapts well to both savory and sweet dishes. Imagine roasted pork lacquered with a tarragon-infused honey glaze, the sweetness punctuated by the herb’s unique, almost floral notes. You can even take a crisp winter salad and toss the greens with a tarragon vinaigrette to punctuate the familiar crunch of lettuce with the herb’s playful whispers of licorice.

Fresh green tarragon on a white background - herbs for cooking

5. Bay Leaves: The Unsung Hero of Rich Stews and Soups

Bay leaves, often relegated to the back of the spice drawer, are the unsung heroes of winter cuisine mainstays like soup or stew. Their subtle, almost minty aroma adds depth and complexity to long-simmering stews, braises and broths. A hearty beef stew, its rich broth infused with the warm, earthy notes of bay, makes each spoonful as warm as a comforting hug on a chilly day. A more fragrant lentil soup with bay leaves whispers of the earthy undertones of a freshly revealed forest floor as the first snow melts away in the spring.

Fresh bay leaves on a white background - cooking herbs
Feeling too overwhelmed by your remaining holiday shopping and meal planning to take full advantage of these flavorful tips? Here’s 4 chef’s insights that have been reduced like a fine bordelaise sauce.

    • ‘Tis The Season For Indoor Growing: Cultivate your own mini indoor herb garden. Snipping fresh herbs is an instant mood-booster, and the aroma will fill your home with festive cheer. Let the vibrant green leaves be a constant reminder of the magic you’re about to create.

    • Put A Catered Meal On Your Christmas List: You’ve done a lot getting ready for the holidays, even just surviving your in-laws is reason enough to celebrate, so skip cooking a feast yourself this year and let our chefs tackle all the herbs above for you with a fully catered, professionally cooked, holiday feast
    • Butter Makes Everything Better: Whip up herb butter with softened butter, your chosen herbs, and a pinch of salt. Keep it in the fridge and ready to spread on bread for gourmet grilled cheeses or just to make bread that much better. You can even melt it over seafood to make the meal that much more decadent and delicious.
So, this holiday season, grab your apron, ditch the predictable meals of yore and embrace your inner herb hero by using more rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon and bay leaves. These herbs alone can help create a holiday feast that will be remembered long after the last carol fades and all is quiet and still.
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