Encore Presentation: Cookin' with Leo
What Am I Supposed To Do With All Them Little Bitty
Tins and Jars Of Sawdust Lookin' Stuff?
I know all my redneck pals, ain't up on all that there fancy stuff I got in my kitchen. Like all the cute little bottles and jars of stuff on a spice rack hangin' on the wall. Well, way back when, when I was practicin' poisonin', or whatever it was I thought I was doin'. And, even way back, long before my cook-out and BBQ'n buddies, and my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother made known unlimited wisdom to me, I didn't know what all them things was either. Sure, I saw my Ma and Grandma use some of that stuff in the kitchen, but when the goodies got to the table, if it wasn't quite up to taste, then I added salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, whatever to sorta' spice it up. Well, them days is gone forever, and now with my immeasurable knowledge about all the herbs, spices, condiments, an' such, I thought I oughta' pass on some information to the willing, waiting, world, wherever, that is, if it is ready for such important information as I may impart, whatever. So, ya'all pay real good attention to these words of wisdom, ya'heah. I ain't gonna' get too technical too often, after all this here is a redneck DIY helpful hints column, not a Cooks class on condiment coating, whichever. And, not only that, my business agent tells me that if I start to get carried away in such top-notch technical terminology that I probably would have to join the NEA, whichever, and start teachin' at some College of Culinary Cuisine, an' that he hadn't developed a dealing with deans of such domains.
So, let's just start with some simple spices that every good griller uses.
Anise: Use fresh leaves to spice up salads. Store the dried seeds in airtight containers, they spice up cookies, sweet rolls, and sweet breads.
Basil: Sweet and fragrant leaves, no Italian cook leaves home without it, good in soups, meat sauces and such, fresh leaves can be added right to meat and spaghetti sauce. Usually dried and cut and packed in little airtight containers. Keep out of sunlight.
Bay Leaves: My Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother told me that in ancient Rome the victorious soldiers were given woven garlands of Bay Leaves to crown their heads (she also said Caesar was assassinated not long after being crowned), The leaves probably helped to get rid of the smell of the heat and sweat of the battle, until they could get a bath, however I didn't push for further details. For the most part nowadays, a couple of leaves of dried Bay will smooth the taste of soups and gravies as they cook, discard from the finished dish. Keep leaves dry in airtight containers.
Caraway Seed: A great gourmet flavor for cakes, cookies and candy making. I also flavor sauerkraut and German Potato Salad with the seeds. Keep sealed in airtight jars.
Catnip: (doesn't have a thing to do with litter boxes) Use fresh or dry Catnip in Tea. Store dried leaves out of sunlight in airtight containers.
Chervil: Wake up the flavor of Beans, red beans and rice, and Cajon dishes. Some folks even use it in yogurt. Store dried leaves in an airtight container in a dark place.
Chives: Fresh cuttings add flavor to almost any dish. Use in salads, sprinkle into eggs when scrambling, good in soups and sauces. Plant some right outside your kitchen door and snip off fresh cuttings to flavor your meal. Cut and dried chives lose flavor fast. Will last a little longer in airtight containers in the fridge.
Comfrey: Use fresh cut leaves in salads and tea. Dried cut leaves can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge.
Coriander: Recipes for fruit salad, pickles, stew, and chili dishes have a special taste with coriander. Cut, dried, and sifted, it will keep in a container on your spice rack.
Dill: Not only is Dill decorative, but seeds are used in favorite pickle and relish recipes. It can also be used with cooked vegetables. Seeds can be kept on the spice rack.
Fennell: Use fresh leaves as garnish. Great in salads. Many recipes call for Fennell as a flavor enhancer. Seeds can be kept on the spice rack.
Garden Cress: A garnish for salads and platters. Not to be confused with Water Cress. Use fresh cuttings. It is also called peppergrass, the curled leaf varieties are most favorable.
Garlic: Always buy fresh Garlic Pods. The best Garlic comes from California, however China has been flooding the market with shipped in pods which are stale by the time they get here. The California Pods are beautifully white, whereas shipped Pods have a yellow cast. Keep the pods in airy containers. Garlic jars with holes cut in the sides are available at gourmet cooking supply shops. This is another spice that no Italian cook leaves home without. It can be used with any dish. Besides cooking with it, a toe of garlic with a Medal of the Blessed Virgin tied around my neck keeps my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother away for long periods of time. Some times it keeps everybody away for long periods of time. On the other hand eating it also keeps cholesterol away from me too. Dried flakes or powder can be stored in containers on your spice rack. When buying flakes or powder avoid Garlic Salt which is mostly salt with a hint of Garlic aroma, and little flavor. Crushed garlic heated in melted butter is a great baste for a grilled steak, and is also good to coat cooked noodles, or other pasta. Sliced French bread lathered with butter and lots of garlic flakes and toasted in the oven goes along with any meal.
Horehound: Use fresh leaves in tea or in syrup. Keep dried leaves sealed in airtight containers.
Lemon Balm: Makes a refreshing addition to chicken, fish, or lamb. Use the fresh leaves for tea and cooking with other recipes.
Lemon Verbena: The leaves have a fresh lemon scent Use in drinks or add to stuffing.
Marjoram: Snip fresh leaves as needed for flavoring. Dried leaves should be stored in airtight containers.
Mint: There are several varieties, most popular are, apple mint, orange mint, spearmint, and peppermint. Another plant you can grow right outside the kitchen door and snip off leaves as needed, Fresh sprigs flavor drinks, tea, or add leaves to salads. Grill lamb chops with fresh leaves of mint. Dried leaves will keep in airtight containers.
Nutmeg: Usually can be obtained as a whole nut about the size of a pecan, they will keep for some time, sealed and out of the sunlight. I use a little nutmeg grater with a flip top that holds a nut and grate it right into soups or gravies, a great flavor enhancer. Ground nutmeg can be bought in small containers and kept on your spice rack. Sprinkle ground nutmeg on eggnog. Grate it on top of omelets. Sprinkle nutmeg on top of waffles and then lather with butter and jelly instead of syrup
Oregano: Known also as Wild Marjoram. Flavor stews and meat sauces with Oregano. Usually dried, cut and sifted, store in airtight containers on your spice rack.
Parsley: Another plant that can grow outside the kitchen door. Snip the fresh sprigs as needed. Can be used in salads soups and many dishes. Cut and dried flakes can be stored in airtight containers and kept in the fridge to help keep their flavor.
Rosemary: Another Italian favorite for meat sauces, gravies, soups, and stews. Keep it on your spice rack in airtight containers.
Sage: Adds a distinct flavor to stuffing and cooked green vegetables. Keep leaves or trimmings in airtight container.
Tansy: Can be used with fish, beef, lamb and pork recipes, It can also be used to flavor omelets. Some folks may find it bitter to their taste so try it for yourself and then adjust to your recipes. Dry flowers are used in arrangements and potpourri mixes.
Tarragon: Use the French Varity to flavor your recipes for better taste. Store in airtight containers on your spice rack.
Thyme: Mix it into your BBQ sauces that you use and use it in marinades. Bees love the stuff, so when grilling meat on your BBQ pit the aroma may attract some unwanted guests. Store in airtight containers away from light.
Ok, there you have it for now. Most spices bought in a super come in little jars and containers that are usually quite costly for what you get. The best way to get spices is to grow the simple ones in your yard, such as mint, parsley, chives and little green onions. The clippings from these plants are always useful in any dish or salad mix. Other spices that you do not use much of should be bought fresh from a spice shop. You can buy small amounts there in small plastic bags and use almost immediately in the recipe at hand, besides being cheaper that way, you will not be disappointed when using fresh spice as opposed to using something you haven't looked at for a year just because a recipe calls for it.
The main thing in preparing recipes that call for spices is to read and check your recipe first. See that you have the necessary spices and condiments called for and see that they are fresh. Spices stored on a spice rack or in your pantry for long periods probably should be tossed. Using old dried out, flavorless dust and powder will be a disappointment to your expected outcome. And as I said some things can be grown right outside the kitchen door These kind are the most often used anyway.
So Spice Up your Cookin'
This has been an Encore Column Presentation of Always True Cooking Info.
The late Leo C. Helmer