Tis the season for cooking, baking, tasting, experimenting, entertaining, and all in all spending a lot of time in the kitchen! One of the best parts of any recipe, holiday or not, is the spices.
I love spices! My husband actually teases me about it. Whenever I try a new recipe, I almost always experiment a little on my own with the spices. I am all about adding a pinch of this and a dash of that to make dishes that are uniquely my own. I do it in my cooking with entrees and soups, and I do it in my baking with breads and cookies.
Spices are what make something scrumptious! I even went through a stage in middle school where I insisted that everyone called me Nutmeg instead of Megan. It didn't stick... When I was a little girl I loved to open my mom's spice cupboard and smell all of the aromas and read the names of the spices. I dreamed of one day naming all of my children after spices.
I wanted a Nutmeg, a Rosemary, a Ginger, and, for a boy, a Coriander who would go by Cory for short. I had it all worked out! I have met a few Rosemary's and a few Ginger's and I was always very jealous of their names. I have never met a Coriander though... I have a spice rack in my kitchen that is well used and I constantly need to refill the spices on it.
I actually have most of the spices twice, once on my rack and once in my cupboard! I know that December is a big cooking month-lots of baking treats for neighbors, family, and friends, lots of cooking up big meals and traditional holiday dinners, and lots of trying new fun recipes. I always feel more creative in my cooking around the holidays, somehow a new dish adds to the festivity of the month. So, I thought that I would talk about some of the spices found on your spice rack that you may not be as familiar with! Some of these spices will come on the traditional 16-20 spice racks; some will be from the larger racks that are available. Even if these spices didn't come on your spice rack, it will still be nice to know how to use them in your kitchen!
• ANISE/FENNEL: Both of these spices have a black licorice flavor to them. I usually recommend anise over fennel because it is a little stronger, but fennel can be a great substitute if you don't have anise on hand. The anise seeds are great to add to your baking since the licorice flavor will bring out the sweetness in pastries, cakes, and cookies. You can add a pinch of anise to almost any recipe that includes cinnamon since their flavors blend great with each other. Ground fennel or anise is usually not as strong as the actual seeds, so you may want to start out with the ground variety until you are a little more comfortable with this flavoring. You can also stir a teaspoon of crushed anise seeds in a cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, and then consume the tea after a meal. The tea will relax you, and anise aids digestion and helps prevents indigestion!
• BASIL: Basil, also called sweet basil, is actually a member of the mint family. Dried basil leaves are grayish-green with an aroma and taste similar, but not exactly, like cloves and anise. Basil blends well with tomatoes and is essential in most tomato-sauced Italian dishes. This is also great to add to recipes that call for ground beef since the meat will really soak up the basil flavor. I add it to my Shepherd's Pie! It is also much better fresh than dried. Dried is usually easier to use and store, but fresh basil has a much stronger flavor. Cook basil for the shortest period possible, as extended cooking times also lessens the powerful flavor. Add basil to pasta sauces and soups just before removing from heat, and you can add basil to pizza upon removing from the oven.
• BAY LEAVES: I love cooking with Bay Leaves! These are great for your slow cooker recipes. You only need to add about two leaves to an entire recipe, which means that your money goes a long way with this spice. Bay leaves can flavor all kinds of meat and veggie dishes, as well as sauces and soups. French Mediterranean, and Indian cuisine uses Bay quite a bit, but Bay can be added to just about anything. One thing to remember about Bay Leaves is that the flavor increases upon standing so remove Bay Leaves from food when cooking is completed. If you are using crushed Bay, obviously that is not possible, so remember to not over-do it with the crushed Bay. Bay is especially great for slow cookers because of this unique quality, it's also great for soups and sauces that simmer for a long time. Simply place it on top of your slow cooker meat, soup, or stew, and let the flavor cook in. Try adding two Bay Leaves to the water when making mashed potatoes, just remember to remove them before you mash the potatoes.
• CARAWAY SEED/CUMIN: These two spices are also fairly similar, like Anise and Fennel and can be used interchangeably in most recipes. The flavor is very distinct, and slightly bitter. It is most commonly used in rye bread. Try adding a pinch of caraway to your coleslaw or potato salad for a unique, and delicious, twist in the traditional flavor. It can also be added to corned beef and cabbage for a more smoky flavor.
• CORIANDER: A surprising fact about Coriander that most people don't realize is that Coriander is actually the seed of Cilantro plants. Cilantro is an herb that is used in a lot of Mexican cooking, but Coriander is most traditionally used in Middle Eastern or Asian dishes. It is often found in lamb dishes, falafel, and curries. You can also crush the seed to powder and add them to different things such as: beans, chili, and some stews for a new flavor. The seeds can also be roasted and added whole.
• DILL WEED: Despite its kind of unappetizing name, Dill Weed is a delicious spice and has many uses. One of my favorite things to do with Dill Weed is to make veggie or cracker dip. All you need to do is combine 1 cup of sour cream with 1 teaspoon each of celery salt and dill weed. I add about 1/8 teaspoon of onion powder as well. Mix well and chill then serve with your favorite veggies or crackers! Dill Weed also goes great sprinkled into cucumber or egg salad, and it is a wonderful addition to seafood marinades and sauces.
• MARJORAM: This is an interesting spice in the sense that the dried variety is actually the stronger tasting spice. It is similar to Oregano and can be a great compliment, or replacement, to Oregano in Italian cooking, especially in sauces. Use marjoram to spice red meats such as beef, veal and roasts. The sweet flavor combines well with the juices of the meat. Marjoram also goes well with bay, basil, garlic and thyme, and with onions. It can be used in meatlof as well to give it a rich flavor.
• OREGANO: This is one of my favorite spices to cook with. Oregano has a great, sweet, peppery flavor and it goes with a lot! I use Oregano in just about everything with red meat, and it also goes great with chicken. I love to add it to my soups and pastas as well. It makes a great pizza sauce flavoring, and I usually put a little bit of it right into my pizza dough too. You don't generally need much since it has such a rich flavor. Try sprinkling it like pepper into your favorite meat recipes.
• SAVORY: True to its yummy sounding name, this spice is usually associated with bold, flavorful foods. Add savory to your bread crumbs when you are serving them as a side dish or when you are stuffing a turkey. Add Savory to slow-cooked meats for delicate pepper flavor, or mix it into potato salads, tomato sauce, meatloaf or mashed potatoes. Savory is a great addition to egg recipes as well, and can be cooked into omelets, scrambled eggs or frittatas.
• SALTS: There are three major salts that are most commonly used, and I thought I would briefly go over uses for each one.
• Celery Salt: This is a combination of celery seed and salt and is great in dips! You can also add a pinch of it to coleslaw, deviled eggs, and chicken. It is also a delicious flavorful addition to macaroni, potato or tuna salads.
• Garlic Salt: You can actually use this in replacement of regular salt at the dinner table to add a little kick to your food! This is also a great addition to your burgers, add it right into the meat before you grill for extra flavor. Garlic salt is delicious on eggs, sprinkled on salads, and even on cottage cheese as well.
• Onion Salt: Onions are a great food to add to almost every main dish you can think of. Onions have a great flavor that compliments other foods and blends in easily. Onion salt is a great way to add the onion flavor without having to buy onions every time you cook. Or, if you have picky eaters who won't eat onions but you still want the flavor, this is a good compromise. Onion salt is delicious in dips, burgers, meat dishes, and soups. It is also delicious on French bread with a little butter and broiled for a few minutes in the over for a delicious addition to an Italian meal.
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