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Herbes de Provence

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If I had to pick a favorite ingredient, it would probably be the creamy goodness that is butter. I don't indulge in this obsession too often, opting instead for my second favorite ingredient, dried herbs. Okay, so that's not really one ingredient, but I have yet to cook with an herb I didn't like and the convenience and staying power of the dried stuff makes it almost too easy.

Out of all the herb blends I've tried, my absolute favorite is herbes de Provence. Besides conjuring imagery of tending a beautiful herb garden on the French countryside, this blend of herbs marries the best both in aroma and taste. Commercial blends first popped up in the 1970s to help cooks attain the traditional French flavors reminiscent of the hills of Southern France. So what are the Provençal ingredients in this herbal, resinous mix? Aside from the main flavor of thyme, that depends upon whom you are asking.

According to Wikipedia and Francis Laget, author of From its Birthplace in Egypt to Marseilles, an Ancient Trade: 'Drugs and Spices', the blend includes basil, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory, thyme, bay leaf and lavender with fennel and sage being optional additions. If you ask Central Market, you'll get winter savory, thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon and lavender. The McCormick brand simplifies the blend even further with just rosemary, thyme and savory. According to TheEpicentre.com, lavender, though a good addition, was not traditionally a part of the mix. Lavender, added later to appease tourists who saw the lavender fields as a symbol for the region, is typically not included in French mixes. Other popular additions to the mix are mint, chervil and even orange zest.

This is not an herb blend that will sit in your pantry for months unused. Herbes de Provence make a wonderful addition to roasted chicken or turkey, as a rub for steak or lamb chops, or in a ratatouille. Also try using the herb blend in side dishes like scalloped potatoes with goat cheese, roasted asparagus or rice. While I've added this herb blend to just about everything, my personal favorite use of herbes de Provence is simply sprinkled in scrambled eggs.

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