Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm Spicy

Hello.  My name is Heather and I have a problem.

I'm a spice-aholic. 

Would you believe that's not even all of them?

And would you believe that only two of those jars are doubles?  Its true.  I own two jars of basil and two jars of ground cloves. 

The rest are completely different, individual, non repetitive herbs and spices.

Why?  Because like I said, I'm a spice-aholic.  During this time of year all the spices go on sale.  Some are even buy one get one free!  How can I pass that up?  Some people have shoe addictions, others have jewelry addictions....I have spice additions.  What can I say?  I like flavor.

What may be even more shocking is that I absolutely, completely use all of them.  I like to experiment.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Mustard and cinnamon do not a compliment make.  I would know.

 I bought a jar of molasses for future gingerbread making.  I went to put it into my very large spice cabinet when I realized that I had already bought a jar of molasses a couple of weeks ago.

This really doesn't happen to me very often.  I'm usually very good about remembering what's in my cabinets.  I just thought it was particularly curious that I doubled up on molasses.  Who thinks about molasses?  Eh.  Oh well.  Lots of gingerbread goodies in our near future. 

So as I rummaged through my spices looking to see what else I might have in triplicate, I thought I'd share a few words on spices.  

I have go-to spices.  The ones I replenish pretty regularly because I use them so much.  Maybe you recognize a few of these.
Cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder.  And, of course, salt and pepper (not shown).
 These spices are great compliments to each other and all foods.  Meats, poultry, veggies, you name it.  You can use any of these in any combination and come up with a winner.

Then there are my go-to herbs.

Herbs de Provence (more on that later), oregano, bay leaves, thyme, basil, and a clever little herb blend they sell at my local market - Fish, Lamb, and Vegetable seasoning rub. ( I use it in rice.  That's how versatile it is.)

Herbs are great.  I love herbs.  I wish I had an herb garden to pick fresh herbs when I needed them.  I kinda do, but it only contains parsley, mint, and rosemary (all of which are nearly impossible to kill and extremely low maintenance).  I have, however, managed to kill all of the following at every attempt to cultivate my own: basil, chives, oregano, and thyme.  So I keep these in dried form for when its not convenient to run to the store for the fresh stuff.
Herbs......mmmmm.......they smell good.  Great in soups, marinades, sauces, omelets, and chicken dishes. 

Go-to baking spices.

Allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla beans, cloves.

Think apple pie.  Pumpkin pie.  Donuts.  Ice Cream.  Meatballs.  Spinach.


Yes, allspice in the meatballs, nutmeg in the spinach.  Classic combos.  Try it.  Add just a touch.  Sprinkle it in.  Its super duper. 

A few noteworthy gems of flavor.

Herbs de Provence is a lovely mixture of basil, thyme, savory, lavender, and fennel.  Its magical.  Its mild and pungent at the same time.  The sweet basil and thyme create a smooth base for the pops of fennel and the aroma of lavender.  I use it when I roast vegetables.  Try this- julienne some carrots, red peppers, zucchini, and onions.  Toss in olive oil and a generous helping of Herbs de Provence and a dash of salt.  Roast for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Toss with pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan.  Its lovely. 
I happen to love curry.  Its not for everyone.  Its got a sweet flavor that is deep and strong and lingers for awhile.  Its great with coconut milk.  Mix the two together to create a sauce for veggies and chicken over rice.  Cilantro is a good garnish for this. 

This stuff is gooooood.  Its got a kick so if you can't take the heat, go easy.  Excellent for shellfish.  And cheddar biscuits.  Just add a couple shakes into the dough and give it a good stir. 

I also love cumin.  Its got a smoky flavor that you can't duplicate with any other spice.  Its great in Mexican food, BBQ, and TexMex style dishes.  Its got a very distinct flavor that some people can't tolerate but I think its fantastic!  I always use a lot of it. 

Then there are a few herbs I just can't figure out what to do with.  For example, marjoram.  I hear its widely used in Italian dishes.  So I add it to stuff like spaghetti sauce and lasagna.  But you wanna know a secret.....I can't taste it.  I don't even know what it should taste like.  I cannot detect it in my food.  Maybe I'm not using it right, I don't know, but to me, the stuff is flavorless.  Same goes for savory.  This one is not quite as absent on my taste radar, but I don't see how it lends itself much to the real flavor of a dish.  I could take it or leave it, I guess.  

I hope I've inspired you to buy some new spices while they're on sale this season.  Stock up, experiment, try something new!  I recommend adding some herbs to your repertoire.  They'll do wonders for your kitchen.  

Go easy on the molasses.   

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