I have a lot of herbs and spices. A lot. At one point, in an attempt to get all of the little bulk bags organized many years ago, I ordered glass jars from Penzeys spice company, and made spread sheet labels for all of the jars. (That may seem a little extreme, but I’m a terrible speller, and this allowed me to spell check everything. Is Rosemary with one R or two? You get the idea.) I had 75 labels! I think when I was teaching myself to cook, buying a new herb or spice made me feel all grown up and sophisticated. I
remember buying some mace for a recipe, and then having it sit in a cupboard for years until I realized it was related to nutmeg, and I could just substitute it in until I had used it up. I’ve never bought that one again.
When I started gardening, I also started to dry my own herbs. Parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano have been home-grown ever since. I freeze chopped cilantro and basil, and always have at least one chive plant and some mint going somewhere (they make great landscape plants and you pretty much can’t kill them). I let some of the cilantro go to seed, and save the seed for my own coriander (same plant – did you know that?). I keep the rosemary in a pot, and bring it into the house in the winter. I also make my own garlic powder (what better use for all those garlic cloves that are starting to sprout come about February) and onion powder on occasion. And chilies (including paprika and cayenne). Grow your own! So easy.
According to the “experts”, herbs and spices, once ground, only keep their potency for about a year, and whole spices are good for up to four years. They are suggesting that you should throw out your unused ground goodies once a year. Yeah… right. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money, (even when buying from the bulk section) and I admit that some of my spices have been around for a LOT longer than a year.
When in doubt, smell them. If they have a strong smell, they are still good. If not…well, I just double the amount the recipe calls for in order to use them up. Unless your palate is way more sophisticated than mine, you won’t notice much difference. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for fresh herbs, and you only have dry, cut the amount in half when you use dry and you will be OK.
Starting out as an effort to use up spices that had been sitting for a while, I started making my own spice blends, often using the ingredients on a store-bought jar or from the Penzeys catalog as a guideline. Here are a few of my “go to” favorites.
All Purpose Seasoning Blend
I once worked as a prep cook (while in college) at a chain Italian restaurant (not Olive Garden). A lot of their foods came in pre-mixed, including the seasoning blend they used on their homemade croutons and in many of their entrees. One day, we ran out, and it was revealed that this “secret blend” was simply equal parts salt, coarse ground pepper and granulated garlic, which we made a batch of on the spot. I’ve been making my own and keeping it on hand ever since.
Cajun Spice Blend
This is essentially Emeril Lagasse’s “Essence Seasoning”, which I ran across in one of his recipes.
- 2 1/2 tbsp paprika (smoked, if you have it)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (i.e. red pepper)
- 1 tbsp dried leaf oregano
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
Other possible additions include white pepper, marjoram (similar to oregano), bay leaf (ground), chile powder, ground allspice and clove. I just stick to the above.
Equal parts: Oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary (crushed into small pieces), basil, and 1/2 as much sage (which tends to dominate the blend if you put in too much).
For each cup of homemade breadcrumbs (take stale bread, grind in food processor, then spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250 until dried and toasted), mix in 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (the ONLY use for the stuff in the green can, in my opinion, but fresh is OK too), 1 tsp Italian Seasoning Blend, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp salt and dash of paprika. Mix well and store in refrigerator.
I use this so rarely that I just mix up my own when I need it, usually around thanksgiving. It’s also a good addition to homemade chicken stock.
- 4 parts ground sage
- 2 parts thyme
- 2 parts marjoram
- 1 part crushed rosemary
- 1 part ground pepper
Homemade Chili Powder
Based on a recipe from Alton Brown. This makes a lot. We use a lot so easily go through this in a year. Cut in half if necessary. Remember, 1/8 cup = 2 tablespoons. 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon. If you have an inexpensive electric coffee bean grinder dedicated to spices, you can grind a lot of this yourself. Toast the whole chilis in a pan until fragrant and starting to darken. Cool, then cut off tops and remove seeds. Tear into small pieces and grind. Be sure to let the dust settle before opening the lid, or you will clear out your sinuses.
- 8 tbsp (1/2 cup) ground Ancho chili (look for whole or ground Anchos in the Mexican section of your supermarket. Anchos are just dried Poblanos. They have a nice balanced heat and are wonderful.)
- 1 tbsp ground chipolte powder
- 1 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp freshly ground cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
Southwest Chipolte Salt
Adapted from a recipe in Herb Companion Magazine. I doubled the amount of spices from the original recipe, as I found it too salty and not spicy enough. I’ve given this as a Christmas gift several times. Wear gloves if mixing by hand, or the chipolte will be with you for a while. Don’t wipe your eyes!
- 2 tbsp ground chipolte
- 4 tsp ground cumin seed (preferably freshly toasted and ground)
- 4 tsp ground coriander seed (preferably freshly toasted and ground)
- 4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 cup salt
Taco Spice Seasoning
Adapted from a recipe in Cooks Illustrated. Quadruple the batch and keep in a 1/2 pint jar for those “what’s for dinner, quick” nights. Now aren’t you glad you made the full batch of the chili powder above?
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp brown sugar
Use about 3 1/2 tbsp per pound of ground beef, turkey or what have you, with some tomato sauce, diced sautéed onion, chicken broth, fresh garlic and a little bit of cider vinegar, all cooked down until thick.
There are as many recipes for curry powder as there are cooks in India. It varies tremendously by dish, region and cook. And authentic currys are always better when made with fresh whole spices “bloomed” in oil. But for those quick dinners or chicken salads where you just want a hit of curry flavor, give this mix a try.
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cardamom powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2010, where we’re miles away from running out of ways to spice up our food, and looking forward to planting an herb garden in the spring.