Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spice is Nice!

Fresh food is great. But what about the spices you use to season it?

I admit, I was one of those who would buy some spice and keep it for the next 20 years...and use it! When we had to clean out my Mom and Dad's house after they passed, I found spice cans that I knew had to be 20 years old or more, because the labels were vintage. That got me to thinking, hummm, maybe my spices are pretty old, too. Then I started reading up on spices. I actually bought "The Spice and Herb Bible", by Ian Hemphill (Robert Rose Publishing, 2006). It's interesting how so many ethnic cuisines use the same spice, like basil in Thai and Italian foods, but the flavors you end up with are so different. I need to read it more often, because it is loaded with history of spices and useful information on storage, use, etc. I have learned to move my spices out of the cupboard space above the stove to the other side of the kitchen where they don't get exposed to heat and steam. Also, buy smaller quantities of spices that you only use a couple of times a year for special recipes.

It's funny, because I have some spices that I can't remember what recipe they were used in, like cardamon. Then, when we did my Ukrainian dinner in memory of my mom this year, there was the recipe: the Honey Cake. It called for a teaspoon of cardamon, and I have a whole bottle. If I only make that cake once a year, the bottle will probably last 12 years. Ugh! Some herbs and spices I go through pretty quickly, however, like basil and oregano and garlic. I do keep some spices right next to the stove: salt, pepper, lemon pepper and an "Everyday Seasoning" blend from Trader Joe's that goes with everything. I refill those on a regular basis.

The cool thing about buy bulk spices is that you can buy a smaller amount of those spices you rarely use without spending a fortune and throw it away if it sits on the shelf too long. This shopping trip cost me $6.11 and I filled up six spice jars. I figure each one would cost at least $2.50 at the store, some up to $5 or $6 each. So bulk spices can save a bundle in the grocery budget.

Anyway, I needed to stock up on a few spices today on my trip into town, so I stopped by New Frontier's Food. Its a great store, kind of like a health food smorgasborg, and I admit I don't even know what three-quarters of their products are (like tempah?). But, my horizons are expanding and I am venturing into new foods, and new staples.

Today I bought dried spices and herbs: paprika, cumin, minced garlic and onion, basil and bay leaves. I scoop them from the bulk containers into these little pouches, then transfer them into my glass spice containers at home. Lately I have been keeping the bags to reuse the next time I go to get those spices. They are staples in my spice rack(s), and that is plural because I have two spice stacks that hold 27 bottles each, magnetic spice containers near my stove, and several more bottles of blends and things on two shelf sections in my cupboard. Some things I use daily and have in several forms, like garlic. I have fresh garlic cloves, granulated garlic, garlic salt, minced garlic, Santa Maria seasoning (salt, pepper and garlic), and several more blends that include garlic.

I have been mixing my own blends, so I have seasoned salt, Mexican seasoning, Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, Greek seasoning, Herbs de Providence, etc. I also have Fish seasoning, Chicken salt, Steak salt, Thai seasoning, Chinese 5 Spice, Pumpkin Pie spice and Poultry seasoning. I might have bought it premixed originally, but since I have so many spices on hand, I can usually read through the ingredients on the label and refill the bottle with a concoction of the same spices they contain and come out pretty close (except for the Thai seasoning--too many odd spices there).

This is a spice can of Sage from my Mother's cupboard
I don't know how old it is, but the regular price was only $1.15. She must have bought it on sale for 39c. I have relegated this can to my vintage display alongside Lee's mom's stand mixer and Betty Crocker cookbook, published in the 1960s.

So I am curious: What are your favorite seasonings? Where do you buy your spices and how long do you keep them on your shelf?

Today I whipped up some poultry seasoning to use on some chicken breasts this week:

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