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MomsRetro.com:  Herb and Spice Cooking Tips

Starting out with Spices

Common Herbs and Spices
For Your Kitchen Cabinet

In years past entire wars were fought over exotic spices. 

jar of fresh sage herbsTrade routes were carefully guarded, beset by pirates and defended by soldiers. 

Some kitchen herbs were so valuable they were kept under lock and key.

Today even the most rare of spices can usually be found at the corner market or a few clicks away on the internet.

But not everyone is so captivated by spices.

I once had to give a friend of mine a baggie of salt because she had nothing in her kitchen. 

Nothing.  No salt or pepper and only one pot (for the boil-in-bags).

In her defense, a large spice collection is usually a thing of pride for cooks.  It can take time and money to build up a large collection of unique herbs and exotic spices.  But there are a few basic ones you might want to have around just in case.

A few select gourmet herbs and spices also make nice housewarming gifts.
If you are starting a new kitchen, stocking a new spice cabinet, or just looking to round out your inventory of herbs and spices, here are a few common flavorings and blends you may wish to have on hand in your kitchen.

The Spicy Basics

Salt

One of the most common minerals on earth and a basic kitchen staple.   It is sold either granulated or as rock salt.  They come in round paper containers, usually with a spout on top.  Go for the basic round container first.

Most salts sold today have iodine added to them and are labeled as "iodized salt".  It is added to prevent iodide deficiency.  Normally sea salt is left as is and does not have added iodine.  Either is fine to use.

Pepper

The fruit of a tropical vine.  Peppercorns are either put into a grinder, or can be bought already ground in tins or shakers.

Salt and pepper is often sold together as sets in everything from simple sets to elaborate matching grinders or salt and pepper shaker sets in any theme imaginable.   There is sure to be a set to match any kitchen decor.

These two are probably the most common of kitchen spices so feel free to invest in a nice set of shakers if you plan on cooking.  Salt and pepper sets also make nice gifts for cooks.

If you don't plan on cooking a lot, you can at least save a few packets from your favorite fast food restaurant for emergencies.

Gourmet Spice Blends

The types of spices you need will depend on the types of dishes you like to make.  A blend of spices is a quick, inexpensive way to try out new flavors and enhance simple foods and sauces.  They save you money and time because they've already measured out the perfect herbs and mixed them together for you.

Some popular spice blends are; Italian, Greek, Spanish, steak spice, chicken seasoning, lemon pepper and seasoned salts and salt-free blends.

Spice blends to try or to give budding four-star chefs:

Steak Spice:  Not only good for steaks, this blend adds depth to dishes, try it in meatloaf or meat balls.  It also jazzes up a plain fried eggs.

Lemon Pepper:  A mixture of pepper and dried lemon peel (or flavorings) This is good on chicken dishes and also tasty on green beans or other vegetables..

Garlic Salt:  Popular on everything from raw vegetables to stews and even mixed into biscuits.

Seasoned Salt:  Great on potatoes, fish or chicken.

Bouquet Garni

Bouquet garni is a blend of a few specific herbs; bay leaf, thyme, parsley and marjoram are the basics, although some mixes also add oregano and other herbs.

It is usually sold in a small bundle, wrapped up in the bay leaf and tied with string.  These are handy for throwing into stews and soups for a nice boost of flavor.

Kitchen Pepper

A unique blend of spices from The White House Cook Book,1887:
Mix one ounce of ground ginger, half an ounce eaCH OF black pepper, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, one teaspoonful of ground coloves, and six ounces of salt. Keep in a tightly corked bottle.

Gourmet Gifts for Cooks

The right herbs or spices can make a good housewarming gift for someone just starting out, or extravagant gifts for someone who cooks.  Here are a few ideas:

Pure Vanilla Extract:  Vanilla flavoring is used in ice cream and almost any form of baking, including cakes and cookies  It is made from extracting the enchanting oils of the vanilla bean which grows on  the Vanilla Orchid.  True extract can be pricey, but the results, as they say, are in the pudding.

Saffron:  Another exotic spice for flavoring (and coloring) rice dishes.  This labor intensive
spice is harvested from the stamens of the Saffron Crocus.

Happy Seasoning!


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