Thursday, April 14, 2011

High on Spice

 I have to say, it was such a sweet highlight of my week to have the spice class at Preparing Wisely tonight! So many dear friends came to learn and share. Joy of joys to have my kindred-spirited sisters whom I've loved for so long join me once again! It made me smile. more than usual. If that is possible.  There were also new faces. I'm so thankful for each one! Thank you all for being there.

So I thought I'd cover a little 101 for those who didn't make it or who are out of town. The first thing is...What is the difference between a spice and an herb?
 Herbs are the aromatic leaves, flowers and stems of plants. Fresh or dry work. Make sure you smell the jar. If it smells like the herb then the stuff inside is still full of flavor. If they smell like dust...then you are just going to be adding dust to your food. Eeewwww.  My darling friend Tina brought her spice rack and had quite a few jars that were very old and full of dust. So...we had an intervention party. I guess you had to be there, but the whole group was laughing at each new jar of dust as we cheered to see it emptied of the pointless "pretties" (like getting rid of a lame boyfriend who's good for nothing...) It was awesome! Very liberating and freeing.
Spices are seeds and bark. They will need to be ground. If you don't have a spice mill (not many do...then just buy the pre-ground and be sure it's fresh). For long term food storage, I purchase whole seeds and store them in non porous containers stored in colder temperatures (70 degrees or less) and preferably in the dark. 

We covered some of the basic homeopathic uses for culinary herbs. For the most part they ease digestion but there are quite a few very beneficial uses that are amazing!  That will have to be an entirely different post. There's a ton of information. 

The other thing we covered was basic herb combining and which flavors work together best for "ethnic" flavors. We made three identical pasta salads from the basic pasta salad recipe. Then we made three different salad dressings and had totally different and amazing salads! One Greek, one Mexican, and one Asian. This is where we didn't use a recipe. You read that right. No recipe. We're going to shut down our number crunching mind and start to trust our artistic ability. We're going to smell the jars! We're going to start to really get a feel for what's in the kitchen. It starts today. Mind you, I will give you some guidelines of herbs and spices that work together you don't feel all together clueless.

Basic Pasta Salad
1 lb pasta of your choice, cooked al dente and seasoned well with salt and pepper. (Lower carb? use of thin sliced cabbage will really improve that carb count.)
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup carrots, shredded or chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin or chopped fine

Basic Vinaigrette (for pennies a jar...) (FAT free coming up in a few lines)
3/4 cup olive or vegetable oil (flavored oils are great)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh pressed garlic
Herbs and spices

Want fat free salad dressing? Did you know it's almost free to make if you have cornstarch and juice already in your cupboard? Use 3/4 cup vegetable broth or juice and 1/4 cup vinegar. In a cold sauce pan combine the vegetable broth with 1 T cornstarch. Add the liquid slowly and then when combined, cook on medium heat, boiling until thick, about 5-7 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then add the vinegar and remaining herbs and spices. Use immediately. Keep refrigerated. If dressing gets thick simply add a little more vegetable broth to thin.

Flavors That Work Together Well
(Not a complete list of spices...just a guide) 
Herbs: Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, flat leaf parsley, marjoram,
Spices: Fennel, caraway, crushed red pepper, celery seed.
Flavor Agents: hard cheeses like Parmesan, asiago. Olives, roasted peppers, citrus zest, capers.

Herbs: Dill, Oregano, Rosemary, Mint, parsley,
Spices: Fennel, anise, black pepper, dill seed
Flavor agents: Feta cheese, olives, pickled peppers.

Herbs: cilantro, mint, lemon grass, sesame oil (use 2 tsp in place of some of the oil)
Spices: Cumin, Chile paste, curry paste, fennel, ginger,
Flavor agents: lime zest, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, citrus zest, peanuts or cashews

Herbs: Cilantro, Oregano, thyme
spice: Cumin, coriander, Chile pods, black pepper, allspice
Flavor agents: lime zest, Roasted corn, green onions, radish, black olives.

Toss the herbs and spices in the dressing. The flavor agents can be added directly to the
basic pasta salad recipe. Mix and match fresh veggies as they are in season. Add fruit if
you like. For hearty dinners, add some roasted chicken or beef. Marinate meat in the
vinaigrette and save a lot of money on those fancy bottles of pre-made stuff. You can
do it. Start to feel yourself free up in the kitchen. It is very liberating. Enjoy.

Now for you folks who just want a grab and go dressing fix, you can just use the pre-made spice blends. You
know...fajita seasoning, Italian seasoning, Greek Seasoning... Don't hurt yourself if you don't feel able to do the artsy stuff yet. I'm patient... and it's a process. Feel the Love babe.  Upcoming this next week will be herb and spice week! I will have highlights on specific herbs and spices, their homeopathic uses and what to do with them in your foodie food! It will be so fun!

1 comment:

Salsa Mama said...

Oh, my goody-goodness that was a great class! So fun to re-connect with old friends and see you, Steph! Thanks!!