Q: What should a well-rounded herb garden contain and what are the various herbs used for?
A: Herb gardening is a big topic. Herbs are grown for cooking, crafts, medicines and teas. They may be incorporated into a flower or vegetable garden, planted in pots or grown in a formal, precise design. An herb garden can be as elaborate or as simple as you desire.
Here are some suggestions for essential herbs for cooking -- this is the kind of herb garden I wouldn't be without. My favorite herbs include flat-leaf parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, chervil, dill, cilantro and chives. Each of these is wonderfully versatile. Parsley can be used with almost any kind of food. Basil is the ideal complement to tomatoes, and there are dozens of delicious varieties available. Thyme and rosemary are both excellent flavorings for meat and vegetables. Sage is a good match for poultry, chervil and dill for fish. Cilantro is an important staple of Asian cuisine. Chives can be added to soups, omelets and sandwiches.
Once you become accustomed to having fresh herbs abundantly available, you will find uses for them whenever you cook. Herbs are quite easy to care for. They like good, well-drained soil and lots of sun. Mint, however, will take over the garden if you let it, so it should be planted in a submerged pot to slow its spreading.
Herbs can also thrive in containers, which are convenient if you don't have much garden space. In terra-cotta pots or ceramic planters, they make a lovely addition to a patio or deck, and they'll be just outside the kitchen door.
Q: Is it unsanitary to baste meat as it cooks or grills with the same liquid you used to marinate it?
A: Marinades can pick up harmful bacteria from raw meat, poultry or fish. To be safe, bring the excess marinade to a boil for several minutes before using it, or increase the recipe and set some marinade aside for basting.
Here are a few more tips for summer grilling: Always use a nonreactive container, like glass or stainless steel, to marinate. Most marinades contain something acidic, like vinegar, citrus juice, yogurt or wine -- they tenderize the meat, but can also react with aluminum.
A heavy-duty resealable plastic bag makes a great container for marinating. Just put the meat in the bag, pour the marinade directly into it and seal. You don't have to turn the meat in the marinade -- just flip the whole bag over.
If you're in doubt about how long to marinate, don't assume that longer is better. Marinades can actually "cook" the food, particularly seafood. If left too long, the result can be an undesirable, mushy texture.
Use these guidelines: Marinate fish and shellfish for 30 minutes to several hours, chicken and beef for several hours to overnight. Refrigerate food as it marinates. And never return the cooked food to the platter you used to take the raw food to the grill -- use a clean one instead.
Q: How do I clean a jute rug without damaging it?
A: Jute is a rough, strawlike fiber derived from the jute plant, a native of south and southeast Asia. It is often used to make ropes and burlap bags as well as rustic woven rugs.
Jute is similar in appearance to sisal, another natural plant fiber, and can present many of the same challenges when it comes to cleaning. Jute rots when exposed to moisture, and so should be used only in dry areas of the house and cleaned with the utmost care.
The best way to maintain the appearance of a jute rug is to vacuum religiously, on both sides of the rug as well as the floor beneath. This way you'll eliminate surface dirt before it is ground into the fibers. Also, avoid placing jute rugs in high-traffic area and use doormats -- one on each side of each door -- to catch dirt on the bottom of shoes before it gets tracked inside.
Take a conservative approach to removing stains from your rugs. Some jute rugs can be cleaned with carpet cleaner or a mild soap and water, but test first in an inconspicuous spot to see how the fibers hold up. Work at a stain with a sponge or soft-bristled brush, but don't scrub. Once the soap is rinsed out, dry the rug as quickly as possible; it's best to do this on a sunny, breezy day. To allow air to circulate, drape the rug over a clothesline or porch railing.