"Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me." - Erma Bombeck
My mom was a whiz with the everyday. She made those roasted potatoes so perfect - soft inside, crusty outside and oh, the flavor. She used just a little garlic powder, ground celery seed and fresh-ground pepper, but "nothing grassy." I grew up in a household of food flavored with spices and little or no herbs. My dad was not a fan of green flakes on his food.
Today, I am. I love food, so when it comes to enhancements, I am a fan. I have a closet full of those staples that are used to season, spice up, augment or create the flavor in foods. To my great pleasure, my antique house came with a spice closet. It has 10 four-inch wide shelves behind a long door. Originally, it was built to utilize that space in front of the chimney, and back then, it was probably planned for home-canned goods. Today it is chock-full of flavoring stuff.
My kitchen store basically includes:
Knowledge of herbs and spices is as old as civilization. Wars have been fought over them and countries conquered.
Cooking with herbs and spices should:
1. Enhance the natural flavor of food to bring out the best in the food.
2. Not disguise the flavor or dominate the dish.
3. Be used in moderation.
Dried herbs and spices do not go "bad," but they lose potency. The best way to tell if they are still usable is to rub the herb or powder in the centermost part of your hand, and look, smell and taste. If it has no smell or color, then toss it. Proper storage requires glass containers, well sealed and stored away from moisture, heat and light. Don't store them in baggies, as the moisture might cause mold and this will change the flavor. The spices in the refrigerator will also pick up moisture and the flavors around it. Ever had fish-flavored cinnamon?
With proper storage, whole, dried spices will last two years, cut, dried ones will last a year and powdered will stay flavorful for only six month. Oh busboy, none of this is gospel. I have a little can of McCormick's cayenne pepper that I use when I want flavor and not too much heat. There is no date, but the sticker says Woolworths and the price is $1.67.
The best way to have a fresh spice cupboard is to buy small amounts and replace them often. The Mohawk Harvest has reasonable prices for small packages of most dried herbs and spices.
I often get comments that new cooks don't know what spice to use when. The best way to learn is to experiment and "just do it," but do it lightly. It can be fun to buy just one and try it for out for a week.
Another clue I learned is when my friend Sharon came and cooked with me. In a fury, she alphabetized my dried herbs and spices. She couldn't believe I had lived this long in such a disorganized state. Oh busboy, it revolutionized my kitchen life, and still does if I can remember to return them to the same spot.
Enjoy the spices in your life.
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