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Old 12-29-2011, 04:04 PM   #1
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Question Desire to cook, but know little about it

Hello everyone! I am new to this site and glad to be a part of it!

My main reason for joining today is that I am very interested in finding out about herbs and spices.

I've been searching the web trying to find what a good basic list of spices and herbs would be to have in my pantry. I am not a fancy cook by any means and I am just looking for "normal" spices and herbs and what they would go well with. So far, I have a small collection I use in basically everything: basil, oregano, tarragon, smoked paprika, sometimes thyme (but I don't know what it's for-or any of them really), salt, pepper. I can't handle anything spicy myself (table pepper is as far as I can go for spice).

So, I haven't yet tried to grow anything but I have tried fresh basil - something I LOVE, but how does one keep fresh anything and keep it alive if you don't use it much?? It seems like a waste to buy it for a small sprig in something then watch it wilt and die because I don't know how to use it other places, you know?

Well, that's why I'm here and those are the things I'd like to know. Any advice on this subject would be greatly appreciated. Books are good, resources and websites, whatever any of you have that could help me learn about herbs and spices and their uses would be wonderful!

Thank you all!


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Old 12-29-2011, 04:35 PM   #2
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I just buy spices as I need them and build my own list of what I like to have on hand. This will vary from chef to chef depending on what foods they like and what they like to cook. One very important part of spicery: spices loose flavor over time so it's very important to know how long you've had any spice, and throw it out at some point even if it's not empty. The useability depends on what kind of spice, and the more finely ground the shorter the life. For example never buy ground pepper; get pepper corns instead and use a pepper grinder. Spices may go bad after several months or might last 3-4 years. I use a permanent marker and write the month/year purchased on each spice bottle so I know how long I've had it, and use that as a basis of which to replace.

I've always had very poor luck growing basil but it's one of the ones I'd love to have plenty of so as to always have on hand. Mint might be nice too.

I've had the best results with rosemary. Once your plant is started it can become huge and I've even seen rosemary hedges as landscaping. You can use rosemary fresh or dry your own. To dry it I pick nice looking ends of branches about several inches long, tie several in a loose bundle and hang it indoors in a place with good ventilation, then separate and store the leaves when dry.

Parsley is a bit harder to grow but is one of the best to have fresh, as a spice or as a garnish. My advice is never ever use dried parsley in your cooking.

Technically not a spice but all sorts of chili peppers are easy to grow (at least in my climate) and some can grow into nice bushes and provide more peppers than you'll ever need. I suggest jalapeno, Thai (or bird peppers), cayenne, serrano, practically any pepper you like. (I've had poor luck with bell peppers but they are not spicy.) Chili peppers can be dried too and I've had great results with that.

Consider the spices you like and use often and look for them in your local nursery.

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Old 12-29-2011, 05:21 PM   #3
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Basil is so much better fresh and (around here) so costly fresh in the grocery that it's worth growing. There are many varieties, all with distinct characters, but you can substitute all of them for any other. Lemon basil, pepper basil, etc. Some have large leaves, and there is a dwarf basil that I like the flavor of.

Rosemary is more hardy, and once you get it started in a temperate zone, it can become a permanent shrub and can get fairly large. Aside from the usual types of use, the branches can be stripped and used a skewers.

Italian parsley is a better effort than the curly stuff used as decoration. Better flavor and texture.

Thyme and oregano are similar to grow. There are also several varieties of both. Try Greek oregano as an alternative. Sage is also a good one to have on hand, especially for pork. I also grow cilantro sometime, but it's always cheap fresh here.

A reasonable approach is to establish a small culinary garden. Although I may grow larger plots away from the house, I keep the essential herbs represented in some self-watering planters made from stock troughs. I will try to start a new thread in the Culinary Gardening forum about that this weekend, if I can get to it. The self-watering planter maintains a body of water in the bottom, and that helps keep the temperature in the space above it warmer than freezing. The planters are near the back door, and I can step out and cut what I need at any time. Lemon grass is the one I'd like to keep but have a hard time with.

I also had arugula in it last year, and it went to seed, and now arugula is coming up all around the planter, which is a bonus salad. Seems arugula is fairly freeze resistant.

There are other interesting herbs, but those are the essentials. If it becomes too cold, or if I have more than I can use when it wants to go to seed, I cut herbs up and put them in olive oil and freeze them in small containers. I also make a lot of basil pesto and freeze that. Good in place of fresh basil in margarita pizza, as well as on pasta.

Slip on over to Penzeys Spices. Over 250 Spices, Herbs and Seasonings. and cast an eye (as they say on the bayou). You don't have to go hog wild buying, but it's a good place to see the lists of spices. When you see one you don't know, Google it or look on Wikipedia.
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:54 PM   #4
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I couldn't get my basil to grow well, and same for my cilantro. Both are plentiful in the stores but I really like the idea of just going out to my back yard and picking fresh whenever I need it. I haven't given up on growing these, and more, currently between houses so will have to wait until I settle again.

Oh yes, certainly lemon grass! It never occurred to me to grow my own because they keep well (up to a month in the refrigerator) and are plentiful in stores. And I'd like to grow Kaffir lime too, to use the leaves in Thai cooking. I get varying quality in my local Asian markets and the leaves keep in the refrigerator for only a couple weeks at best.
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Old 12-29-2011, 07:13 PM   #5
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Basil can be left on the plant until you need to trim it. Cut off all the tops, and place in a small glass in water. They make a very pretty posy for your kitchen, and in a week or so, they will have nice little roots on them. The next stock or broth you make, chop them up, roots and all and add.

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Old 12-29-2011, 07:57 PM   #6
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As others have said, let what you cook decide what you have in your pantry. Any time you buy a herb or spice for a recipe, you won't use the entire jarful. That goes into your spice rack and waits to be used again.
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Old 12-29-2011, 08:18 PM   #7
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When I only need a little of an herb or spice for a recipe I want to try, I go to the bulk store and buy a small bag. The other thing I do is store dry herbs I don't use often in the freezer.

Thyme is a member of the mint family. I particularly like it in Quebecois Split Pea Soup (here's a link to a recipe similar to how I make mine, but I usually use a ham bone or two that has been cooked in the ham and glazed with maple syrup, rendered into stock). I love to top it with a dollop of sour cream and fresh thyme. The LCBO Food and Drink magazine has 125 hits on thyme.


Here's a link to the LCBO Food and Drink Magazine for ideas of how to use thyme (I like fresh, it is one I grow in my kitchen):

Recipe Search Results

I love thyme. It is great with tomato-based dishes, chicken, veggies. It adds a nice touch to eggs, soups, stews, beef dishes. It is probably as versatile as basil, oregano, or marjoram.

Keeping the fresh herbs in a glass of water (as if you wanted to root them), helps keep them fresh longer. You can also freeze them.
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Old 12-29-2011, 08:22 PM   #8
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I grow my must haves on the deck every summer and just snip off what I need when I need it. Water once a day ish & I have them where they get rain.
Parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, 2 kinds of basil & oregano. Once I had a curry plant just because it smells awesome when I walk by.
Come winter I can't grow outside soooo.
Dried spices are fine! If they smell a little weak (within reason) you can chuck what you need in a small skillet & heat just until a little smoke comes off to restore the flavor. Using some spices (cumin, corriander, mustard, pepper etc..) in seed form with a spice grinder is always good too when you can't do fresh.
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Old 01-03-2012, 10:54 AM   #9
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Great ideas and advice

Thank you all for your replies to my post about spices and herbs! I have tried growing my own but I'm afraid that they just end up being a pretty plant because I don't know how to cook with them, but your ideas here will help me to understand how. I noticed that no one said anything about tarragon. This is one herb(?) I love the smell and flavor of, but don't know what foods it goes with.

Do any of you know of a good online source to check out on what herbs/spices go with what foods best? The books mentioned in past posts I did check out, but I'm poor right now and can't afford them so an online source that I can print off my computer would help so much.

Thank you all again for your advice!!
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Old 01-03-2012, 11:46 AM   #10
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Here's one: http://www.foodandnutrition.com/appe...pice_chart.htm

Google Herb and Spice chart. There's also a lot of good info here on DC, check out Herbs and Spices in the recipe section.

Have fun, and welcome to DC!

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