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HERBS & SPICES

Make a Fresh Start:

• One thing that separates the men from the boys in the kitchen is the use of fresh herbs. With few exceptions (i.e. oregano) there is a world of difference between fresh and dry. Start by trying a couple, like parsley and rosemary.

• As soon as possible when Spring arrives, plant some herbs in your garden. You can even grow them in pots. Either way, it's great to be able to fetch a snip or two when you want to add some flavor to a dish. If you're not a gardener, try asking your spouse to grow them for you; that's what I did!

Weed Out your Rack:

• Replace dried herbs and spices when aroma & flavor aren’t up to par. You can often tell if a spice is past prime by smelling it; if it smells bland, toss it. Ditto if the color is faded.

• Longevity varies between whole and ground spices. Whole spice aren't as convenient, but they do keep longer, sometimes twice as long.

• Here are some shelf life guidelines for herbs and spices:

WHOLE Spices: 3 - 4 years
GROUND Spices: 2 - 3 years
Leafy Herbs: 1 - 3 years
Seasoning Blends: 1 - 2 years

• Note that spice companies recommend you replace your herbs and spices more often, but they have a vested interest in doing so.

• Consider investing in a mortar and pestle or spice mill. Some spices can be ground by smashing with a heavy pan or rolling with a pin. Put them between sheets of plastic or parchment first. You can also grind spices in a small jar with your blender.

• The presence or lack of a good quality herb or spice can make or break a dish. All your efforts to cook it properly might be wasted without attention to this simple detail.

Buy Good Quality Herbs & Spices:

• Good seasonings will have longer useful lives than marginal ones.

• Good herbs & spices don't have to cost more.

• Avoid buying them at supermarkets where they are overpriced 2x or 3x. Besides, Durkee and McCormick are only so-so at best.

• I shop locally at Penzeys, Cosmos International and, believe it or not, Ocean State Job Lot.

• Cosmos has a great selection of herbs and spices for Indian cooking, and they are very reasonable. Many are packaged in bags instead of jars.

• Penzeys offers many products in plastic pouches which are more economical than jars.

• If you want to shop online, try MySpiceSage.com which ships for free. I don't have any experience with them but may give them a try next time I need something and can wait a few days for it.

• Don't buy more than you'll use before they need replacement. One thing I like about Penzeys is how they sell small, 1/4 cup jars of most products.

Organize your Spice Rack:

• My spice rack is part of my "mise en place" and I want to be able to find what I want quickly and easily.

• I like lazy susans for herbs and spices. I have 2 of these rotary racks arranged with 13 short jars around the outside perimeter and 7 tall jars around the inside plus 1 jar in the center. That way I can easily see all but the center jar when I spin the racks.

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• I recommend organizing your rack alphabetically. You can have separate racks for cooking (mostly herbs) and baking (mostly spices) if you want, but I don't.

• Make a list of what you need. I even created a chart, mostly to figure out which ones would be short and tall so I could buy the right sizes.

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• If your jars don't have expiration dates, put stickers on the bottoms of the jars or write on the labels the month and year purchased. This will help you determine when to replace them next time around.

• I have a third lazy susan for liquid condiments: toasted sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, hickory smoke flavoring, Tabasco, sherry, vermouth, brandy, rum, etc.

Store Properly - if possible:

• Ideally, herbs and spices should be kept somewhere cool and dark for longest life. I chose to have mine readily available for easy use as this also encourages experimentation. In so doing, I recognize that I'll have to replace some more often.

• Definitely avoid storing herbs and spices on or near your stove, dishwasher, or other any appliance that generates heat and/or moisture.

• Definitely avoid storing herbs and spices in direct sunlight.

© 2012 D. K. Dickey - All Rights Reserved

 

 

Here's how my spice racks look now:
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( one of two lazy susans)

Here's how they used to look:
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(tall outside jars hide inner jars)

PORTABLE SPICE RACK
Great for travel, college dorms, first apartments.

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TRY FRESH HERBS
Nothing in a jar comes close. Here's a quick primer.

GENERAL TIPS
Get some useful tips covering topics like how to season, knives and knife skills, and cookware.

TIP OF THE WEEK
Current tip with links to past tips.

EQUIPPING YOUR KITCHEN
Get a list of essential equipment, cookware, and supplies. If it's "essential" you need it, if not, you can probably live without it or substitute something else.

STOCKING YOUR KITCHEN
Get a list of essential fridge/freezer, pantry, herbs/spices, and mis.

WHERE TO SHOP
Get a list of local markets and specialty shops with tips on what to buy where and how to save $s.

POTS & PANS
My treatise on cookware and what you really need.

READING LIST
What I've been reading: what I've liked and why.

CLASS NOTES
Get class-specific notes covering each night's dishes in the order we cook them. This is updated regularly as we progress through the syllabus.