5 Essential Fresh Herbs

I love to cook with fresh herbs, there is absolutely nothing like a the fresh taste of parsley, chives and butter with a good steak. The addition of mint to a fresh fruit salad or the bright somewhat fennel flavor fresh chopped tarragon adds to chicken salad. At my home I have two herb gardens, one out in my main garden where I grow the bulk of my vegetables and then a smaller raised garden bed out on our porch thats within walking distance to my kitchen.

At this moment, late winter I have at least 8 varieties of herbs growing; parsley, cilantro, chives, mint, tarragon, thyme, oregano and rosemary. I have two varieties of rosemary creeping and tall, three  types of thyme; common, elfin and lemon. Two lovely varieties of oregano; Greek and Italian. Why so many? What uses do I have have for all of those? Do they survive Texas winters or summers? All those answers and more are below and images of the 5 essential herbs I use in my recipes and as garnish in my images.


Highly aromatic with a robust licorice flavor. Excellent in pestos, as a finishing touch on pasta sauces and dishes, or stuffed into sandwiches.


Light and feathery herb with a pungent herb flavor. Use it with yogurt sauces, vinaigrettes, homemade pickles, poached fish, and sprinkles over salad greens.


Available in flat-leaf (Italian) or curly varieties, this very popular herb is light and grassy in flavor. Use it in sauces, in salads, in place of cilantro, compound butters and as always a garnish.


Delicate onion and garlic flavor. Use with fish, baked potatoes, whipped in cream cheese and their flavor is perfect for creamy egg dishes.


 A subtle, dry aroma anywhere from a lemon flavor to a slightly minty flavor. Best used with poultry, fish, vegetables, soups and is paired with tomatoes.

All Purpose Herb Salt
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  • 2 cups Kosher salt, coarse salt or Himalayan salt
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Thyme, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 lemon juiced and zested


  1. Set oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Measure the Kosher salt into a medium size bowl add the fresh ground pepper to the bowl and set aside.
  3. Wash and dry all the fresh herbs, remove only the leaves and discard the woody stems from all the herbs.
  4. With a sharp knife and cutting board, finely chop the herbs and add to the salt.
  5. Wash and dry the lemon, using a zester remove the peel and add the zest to the salt and herbs.
  6. Juice the lemon you just zested, making sure to strain any pulp and seeds. Add the lemon juice to the salt and herbs.
  7. Stir the salt well so the lemon juice, herbs, and zest are fully incorporated. Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet and bake 30-45 minutes or until the salt is no longer wet and looks very dry, stir the salt mixture carefully once or twice through the cooking process.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, take a fork or wooden spoon and break up the large pieces.
  9. Place in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
  10. Add to chicken, turkey, fish, vegetables, salads and added to unsalted butter to make a compound butter. My personal favorite is to add this salt over freshly popped popcorn and drizzled with a bit of brown butter.

Best-Ever Panini Press Sandwiches

I love when it is panini night at our home, the smell of browned butter and toasting bread. That crisp bread crunch and then the soft and silky melted cheese are culinary perfection. From melted Swiss cheese and onions to cheddar and bacon this meal is not only simple but packed full of flavor.

The challenge is to grill the bread correctly and achieve those deep grill marks with out burning, then getting the cheese to melt evenly but still hold its shape. The solution, use good and sturdy artisan bread that has 1/2 inch slices. Choose good cheeses, it is a must, sample as many as you can from your deli then make your selection. Letting your cheese sit out for about 5 to 10 minutes to get the chill off before grilling ensures even melting. Using a panini press that evenly heats the griddle plates is key, you can guarantee a crips texture, golden color and perfectly warm melted cheese filing.

You can find this exact model panini press in my pantry, I love the Cuisinart grill and panini press. The plates heat up quickly and evenly which toasts the bread or what ever you want to press in it. The simple to see green light turns on when your panini is ready, there is no guess work. The griddle plates are nonstick so your clean up time is a breeze, no more burnt on cheese remains. Along the backside there is a drip pan for catching any butter or olive oil run off.

Perfect Side Dishes for A Panini

Roasted tomato soup is the top side dish for any panini. With a creamy and silky texture this soup calls for melted cheddar, jack and cheese sandwich to be dunked then swooped up into your mouth to enjoy all that salty and rich flavors.

Arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette, the peppery flavor from the arugula and the bitter yet salty vinaigrette balance the fattiness of all that cheese. Use the same olive oil to brush over the bread for your the sandwich and in the salad dressing, the flavors marry the ingredients perfectly.

Sweet potato fries with a sprinkling of sea salt are a delicious addition to a warm spice panini grilled cheese sandwich. Think about adding rich Indian flavors such as sliced roasted curry chicken, chutney and gouda cheese.


If you choose to use a grill pan instead of a panini press, heat the pan on medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Place the buttered grilled cheese sandwich in the pan and reduce heat to low, add a small plate on top of it and a heavy soup can. That weight will press your sandwich perfectly.  Once the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted remove it, sprinkle some finishing salt and fresh ground black pepper over the top or add some fresh chopped herbs.

Slicing, what is the right way to slice a grilled cheese sandwich? After many tasty tests my family and I have found that slicing the sandwich diagonally is the best way. That long cut releases a bit of the trapped heat and has more surface area to dip into the soup. Letting the panini rest for 3 minutes before slicing helps the melted cheese set up so it does not run onto the plate.

Enjoy the recipes below, try them and let me know how you enjoyed all the incredible layers of flavor. This is a family fun night meal, have the ingredients placed on the counter, the press warmed and dinner plates waiting. Kids LOVE making these, at least mine do, spreading the butter and stacking up the ingredients gives them such confidence. They also love to hold the press handle down and watch the cheese slowly melt and the bread brown. Enjoy one of my top 5 comfort foods, share your pictures over on Instagram with the #katescuriouskitchen

How to Cook A Panini

Pre-heat your panini press, carefully place your sandwich on the hot grill plates. Close down the top part of the press and cook according to the manufactures direction, usually 3-5 minutes. Remove with care, the sandwich will be very hot, wipe down the grill with a folded paper towel.  Place hot sandwich on a plate or cutting board, continue to cook additional panini sandwiches.

Brie, Arugula and Prosciutto Panini: Brush the outside of both pieces of bread with olive oil. Turn over and spread 1-2 tablespoon of sweet hot chutney on the inside of each bread slice. Add very thin slices of brie to each piece of bread. Next, add the prosciutto on top of the cheese, add a bit of baby arugula on top of that. Place the sandwich together and cook the panini as to your grills directions.

Texas Brisket Panini: Spread softened butter to the outside of two thick slices of sourdough bread. Take 1-2 tablespoons of grain mustard or your favorite BBQ sauce and spread on the inside of the bread slices. Add 2 -3 slices of Colby jack or cheddar cheese to each bread slice. Now add your cooked brisket to one side and top with pickles. Place the sandwich together and cook on the panini grill as per the grills instructions.

Chicken Caprese Panini: Split a ciabatta roll in half or slice two pieces of rustic artisan bread. Brush the inside and outside with olive oil. Evenly spread 1 tablespoon of pesto on the inside of the bread. Place two slices of fresh mozzarella on top of the pesto and two thin slices of tomato on top of the cheese. Add some pre cooked rotisserie chicken to one side a  drizzle of balsamic vinegar and carefully place the sandwich together. Cook as per your panini grills directions.


Roast Pork Loin with Apples

The flavorful aroma of apples, pork, spices and fennel truly is the perfect combination for any cold night. I recently attended a cooking class where the focus was apples and how their flavor added bright and tangy notes to simple dishes. Like adding Granny Smith apple into oatmeal as it cooks or searing sliced Gala apples then adding it to butternut squash soup. From the original varieties to todays amazing creations I was fascinated that an Envy apple can be cut, exposed to air and not brown for up to 6 hours with out the traditional lemon juice bath! Scouts honor, I’m telling the truth.

The bright and vibrant green of a Granny Smith apple (circa 1868), that tart lemon like firm flesh is perfect for an apple pie, apple chutney, and salads. I learned a surprising fact; the Honeycrisp apple has a different cell structure to its wall than all the other apple varieties it has unique honeycomb walls. Which, once broken by either a bite or a slice of a knife JUICE and lots of it is released. Hence the sweet taste and flood of juice is why they named that apple the Honeycrisp.

Choosing the correct apple.

When I’m at the grocery store or farmers market looking at all the apple varieties I get a bit tripped up at times. Which apple is best for baking? What about an apple I can grill? Which variety holds its shape while cooking and just the opposite what type breaks down? If you are like me and have similar questions, no fear I have the answers for you.

Top 5 Eating Apples

Honeycrisp, Sweetango, Piñta, Pink Lady, Fuji

Best Apples For Cooking & Sauces

Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Pink Lady, McIntosh

Best Apples for Salads

Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Gala, Envy, Fuji

Best Apples for Baking

Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome, Pink Lady, Envy

Best Apples for Grilling

Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Envy, Piñata

Best Apples Paired with Cheese

Rave; sharp cheddar cheeses, brie, soft creamy cheeses  

Honeycrisp; smoked cheese, creamy cheese and cheddar

Piñata; Goat cheese, blue cheese, creamy cheeses

I could fill this post with amazing facts I learned but for now I will leave you with a recipe that will not only bring out the rich flavor of pork but it will also celebrate the sweet and delicious flavors of my new favorite apple, the Envy apple. Enjoy!

Serves 4-6 Servings

Apples and Pork

This rich, flavorful roasted pork loin has the sweet-floral scent of fennel seeds, apples and onions. Then the bright spice of red chili flakes comfort you with every warming bite.

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  • Brine
  • 10 cups cold water
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup Kosher salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 head garlic halved
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 4 pound pork loin
  • Fennel Spice Rub
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons red chili flake
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Apples & Onions
  • 2 Envy apples, cored and cut into ½ inch slices
  • 2 medium sweet onions, cut in half then cut into thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup apple cider


  1. Brine; in a large container with a lid all the ingredients and mix well until salt and sugar dissolve.
  2. Place the pork loin in the container, make sure it is completely covered in the brine, if not add in water until it is.
  3. Place in refrigerator for 8-24 hours.
  4. Remove pork from the brine, rinse with cool water and pat dry, set on a baking sheet.
  5. Rub: place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until a smooth paste forms.
  6. If you do not have a blender a spice grinder or mortar and pestle will work. Remove 1 tablespoon of the rub and set aside, take remaining rub and spread over all sides of the pork loin.
  7. Lightly cover with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator.
  8. Heat oven to 350 degrees
  9. Place sliced apples and onions in a bowl and add remaining ingredients, except the apple cider, toss well.
  10. Add in the reserved 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture and stir well, set aside.
  11. Heat a cast iron pan for 15 minutes over medium heat, make sure it is large enough of fit the pork lion.
  12. In a deep baking pan add the apple mixture to it, spread evenly, set aside.
  13. When your cast iron pan is hot, remove the pork from the fridge, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sear the pork loin, fat side down for 8 minutes.
  14. Turn off the flame, carefully take the pork out of the pan and place on top of the apples and onions.
  15. Pour apple cider in the hot pan to deglaze, scrape up any bits left from the pork. Carefully pour the hot cider over the pork loin.
  16. Place pork in the hot oven and roast for about 1 hour or until the center is 140 degrees.
  17. Remove pork from oven once cooked and transfer it to a cutting board, tint with foil for 20 minutes.
  18. Return the apples and onions to the hot oven and cook for an additional 12 minutes to brown them.
  19. Slice the pork and serve the roasted apples and onions on the side.

Top 5 Must Have Kitchen Tools

I have been asked time and time again, Kate what are your top 5 kitchen must haves although it seems to change every once in a while I have a solid list of items I always get for wedding shower gifts, new home gifts or what I use in our camping trailers. Enjoy!

1. Cuisinart Precision chef Digital Kitchen Food Scale Stainless Steel

2. Farberware 3pc Essential Poly Cutting Boards White 

3. KRUPS Electric Coffee Grinder, Spice Grinder, Stainless Steel

4. Stainless-Steel Restaurant Mixing Bowls, Set of 5 

5. KitchenAid KHB2561 Architect 5 Speed Hand Blender

I hope these 5 must have kitchen tools help you outfit your kitchen or give you a fantastic idea for a wedding gift. Out of all the items above, that KitchenAid hand blender is my personal favorite. I have one in our trailer and one in our home, food prep is effortless. I can puree soups, chop tomatoes, onions and jalapeños for salsa, whip fresh whip cream for a cobbler or pie. Another fantastic feature is the measuring cup, I can simply measure out ingredients in the chopping bowl or the pitcher.

Food prep should be simple and easy, thats where these 5 items come in, a scale for weighing your baked items, cutting boards to keep your raw protein in a safe place, multiple size mixing bowls for food prep a spice grinder to always have fresh ground spices for your next meal. Then my favorite, the hand blender, for its countless food prep options.

If you are looking for recipes to go along with all those tools, then my cookbook The Campground Gourmet is exactly what you need. Enjoy!

What a Dream…

A Dream Come True.

I have an announcement, something that I have been holding in and protecting for some time now. It started with a dream then it moved over to a wish and then it turned into something real, something I have been able to shape, contour and cultivate for months now. Yesterday morning November 12,2018 it all changed for me, that wish connected me ever so slightly to chef’s and cooks I have looked up to and learned from for years.

Julia Child the Master of French Cooking, Edna Lewis and her soul feeding food, Ina Garten and her flawless simply elegant meals, Ree Drummond and her lifestyle nourishment. Samin Nosrat and her explosion of the four food flavors. Gordon Ramsay and his Military perfection in the kitchen, Rachael Ray and her ease of preparation, Martha Stewart and her determination of home cooking perfection. Bernard Clayton and his layered pastry, Alice Waters and her dedicated seasonal movement, Americas Test Kitchen and their persistence to find the perfect recipe, Rick Bayless and his flavorful pallet of spice. Ruth Reichel and her passion with food, Jack Gilmore and his dedication to the Texas farmer, Steven Raichlen and his ability to tame smoke and fire. All the above names and countless others have one thing in common they are cookbook authors and as of yesterday I joined that list too.  I am a published cook book author!

I give you, The Campground Gourmet, Simple, Delicious Recipes for Dining in the Great Outdoors. Available now on Amazon.



I can not begin to tell you the amount of work that went into this project however, I can tell you about all the amazing and dedicated individuals that have helped me put all the pieces together. Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi creators of RV Family Travel Atlas, they are my editors, they have spend countless hours editing, creating and guiding me along this adventure. I am truly grateful to the both of you and your belief in me, this cookbook and our friendship, thank you so much.

Steven Dunbar, my love and champion. You have always, always encouraged me to take adventures and just go for it. I can not think of a single time in our 12 years of marriage (13 on Friday 11/16) where you have asked me not to do something, you have never said no. But, I’m certain when I am in the thick of it you wish you had. I love you husband, thank you so much for all your help, encouragement and the strongest shoulder I could ever rest my head on when I was too tired to go any further. Oh, and for cleaning up when that raccoon destroyed my photo set on the patio, you are a saint.

To my children, you were my first true recipe taste testers, I made all your baby food when you could eat solids. I found out by trial and error what all your favorite cookies, meals, smells and tastes are. I have watched all three of you grow up and develop new tastes and favorite food memories. I love when you ask me to make your favorite meals, even if it is a box a macaroni (Paige) or a beurre blanc sauce (Andrew) or a perfect pan seared steak with a fried egg (Sean).

My friends and family who have been in the loop and truly kept my project safe and protected until yesterday when it was out there for everyone to see. Your encouragement, help and cyber cocktail time truly made this experience a magical gift. You helped me choose recipes, look at images and you also told me that when I made it big I owed all of you an Airstream or one heck of a vacation…I love each one of you and I appreciate your loyalty and friendship more than you could ever know.

I have always felt at home or in my comfort place at a campground, sitting in front the fire watching the golden coals smolder and send tiny shooting stars into the sky. The fire at a campground not only warms you up at the end of a long day of hiking or swimming in a lake, it feeds you. You can place a piece of cast iron over the coals and slip a fresh caught trout in that pan with onions, herbs some olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and you have one of the best over the fire flavor meals anyone can create. It’s the fire, smoke and quiet, the total concentration of keeping the temperature there in just the right zone. It’s the laughter while watching a marshmallow swell with the heat of the fire only to spontaneously catch on fire and smolder away. It’s that crisp morning air and a rich hot cup of coffee in your favorite camp mug- it’s the great outdoors. There is so much my cookbook is about, the recipes are perfect for at home, at a park, sharing with your family at a celebration or sitting in Jackson, Wyoming under the peaks of the Grand Teton and all her beauty.

I’m Kate Dunbar, The Campground Gourmet, I tell stories through food and help individuals create culinary adventures with my recipes.

Kate's Curious Kitchen

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