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Friday, September 30, 2011

{Spice it Up}

After posting my steak seasoning recipe, I started thinking that I could easily do a whole post about spices alone! As you can tell, I am quite the fan of spices...

Since I am focusing on spices, I didn't include the wide array of vinegar, oils and sauces to the right. I guess its cheaper than an obsession with shoes or purses, right?

My boyfriend has teased me before about the number of spices that I have and has said that they are all the same so I should get rid of a few. I challenged him by asking if his fish oil pills and shark cartilage supplements are the same and suggested that we get rid of one of those.... (Silence)

Anyway, lets start with salt.

Yes, I really do have four kinds of salt in my house (not counting the margarita salt) and I use them all for different things.

The first salt is kosher salt. It is a coarser salt that is inexpensive and dissolves easily.  I like to use kosher salt in a big pot of water for pasta or boiling potatoes. 

The next is plain table salt. This is a very fine salt that I use for baking. 

Note that this container specifically says that it does not contain iodine. Iodine was added to salt back in the 1920s as a supplement to combat iodine deficiency. Its not much of a concern anymore and I think it makes the salt taste funny so I buy table salt sans iodine.

The salt that I use most often is sea salt. I use this salt to season when I am cooking pretty much anytime I am not using the above two salts. 

I think that sea salt has a much better flavor than table salt. It has more of a pure salt taste rather than a chemical taste. If you have never tried it, test it out. Take a small dab of table salt on your finger and taste it. Then taste the sea salt. Trust me, you will taste the difference.

Finally, I keep course sea salt around for a different texture. I like to finish certain dishes, such as caprese salad, with a bit of course ground sea salt.

As for spices, I couldn't do much justice without spending hours going on about each spice and some of the uses. Instead, I will refer you to the McCormick site and suggest that you save it to your favorites. The site has an A-Z list of spices and the types of dishes they are used for.

There are so many types of spices and despite what my boyfriend thinks, I really do use all of the ones in our pantry. However, I think there are staples that every pantry should have. Here they are:

Bay Leaves
Black Pepper Corns (This is a MUST - If you use preground, stop using lead shavings and buy a pepper grinder today!)
Cayenne Pepper
Chili Powder
Cinnamon, Ground
Cumin, Ground
Garlic Powder
Italian Seasoning
Onion Powder
Parsley Flakes
Crushed Red Pepper

Mind you these are the bare essentials that will get you through most recipes. There are many other spices that you can add to your collection. McCormick also has a gourmet collection that has more exotic spices.

One of my newest favorites is smoked paprika. This spice gives your dishes a really unique taste. I love sprinkling it on chicken with salt and pepper for a quick, easy and flavorful main dish.

Spices can get rather expensive, but I have a few tips to save.
  • Cruise by the spice area during your weekly shopping trip - This allows you to pick up any spices that happen to be on sale 
  • Stock up around Thanksgiving and Christmas - There are usually big sales on spices during the holiday season, I use this as an opportunity to stock up and pick up some of the more expensive spices 
  • Buy from the bulk bins of stores like Winco - Refill your containers at a big discount 
  • Buy the bags of spices in the Mexican food isle - these spices are cheap, cheap compared to the expensive bottles so use them to refill those old containers
Last few tips:
  • For whole spices, invest in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder to grind your spices.  Don't try and use a grinder interchangeably for coffee and spices though.
  • Store in an air tight container in a cool place.  Storing spices over the stove is the worst place.  The heat can damage the spices.
  • Spices do lose their potency so don't overbuy (especially ground).  You can check them with a quick smell test.  
  • I do not recommend buying a spice rack full of spices unless you plan on dumping out the containers and refilling them.  They probably have been in there forever and taste like nothing.

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