Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Art of Cooking with Herbs and Spices

Cooking 101: Seasonings

Adding seasonings to your recipes can bring out or complement the flavors of the main ingredients. They can be as simple as salt and pepper or more complex blends of spices and herbs. Always, seasonings are meant to enhance the flavor, not overwhelm or detract from it.

If using seasonings in a marinade using acids or oils, the flavor of the liquids should also be considered.  Liquid marinades change the texture of food while also enhancing the flavor.

Salt and pepper are used too often as merely finishing seasoning at the end of preparation.  But they truly need to be added before cooking to bring out the flavor of foods.  If added at the end, one tends to taste primarily the salt or pepper instead of the enhanced flavor of the food.

Spice and herb blends may be used just as you would salt and pepper. Rubbing the mixture onto meat or seafood helps to get the mixture to adhere and to apply an even coat. This is generally referred to as a “dry rub”.

Toasting seeds and spices before grinding them will intensify their flavor. This may be done on the stovetop or in the oven:

1.      Stovetop: Preheat dry skillet to med heat. Add whole spices and seeds and toss and shake until they begin to release their aroma. Remove to a plate to cool.  Be careful as it is easy to scorch the spices or seeds.

2.      Oven: preheat oven to 350°. Spread spices and seeds on a dry cookie sheet (with sides). Bake until aroma is apparent.  Stir often or shimmy the pan to assure even browning. Remove immediately and transfer to a plate to cool.

Fresh herbs and other fresh ingredients such as garlic, bread crumbs, or grated cheeses can be blended into a paste or coating. You can add oils or mustard to create a mixture that will easily adhere to the food. Make sure herbs are clean but dry.

Herb and spice blends can be added to the initial browning of aromatic veggies for braises and stews as the fat used to brown them will release the flavor better then when added after the liquid is added.

Seasonings are applied in 2 basic ways:

1.      Dry Rub-   Ground up spices and herbs that is rubbed on meats and seafood before cooking and left to set in the frig.  Often, salt is added to these rubs to help intensify the flavors.  They may be left on during cooking or scraped off before cooking as in the case of some salt encrusted roasts.

2.      Marinades-  Generally made from adding seasonings to a liquid in the form of oil, vinegar, fruit juice, wine, or even soy sauce.  The liquid used has an effect on the food. Oils protect the food from burning when cooked and help the seasonings adhere to the food. Acids, such as vinegar, citrus and fruit juice, and wine, flavor the food themselves and change the texture.  Acids can firm the food as in the case citrus juice on fish.  Acids will also break down the connective tissues in meat to tenderize them.  In beef bourguignon, the beef is marinated in red wine for several days.  Times for marinating vary according to the food’s texture. Tender foods such as fish or poultry breast require less time then a lean beef roast, for example.  Most fish should not be marinated more than 15 minutes in an acid liquid as it will literally begin to cook (ceviche). Heavy foods such as meat are better marinated for hours, over night, or even for days.  Cooking the marinade after the marinating process makes a great accompanying sauce by either merely reducing the liquid till syrupy or by adding other ingredients to enhance and thicken such as butter or flour.  Make sure you bring the liquid to a boil for several minutes to kill off any pathogens from the raw food!       

Here’s a list of peppers and salts that you can experiment with:

Fleur de sel- a delicate salt that’s one of the best finishing salts. A good salt for dessert recipes.

Kosher salt- coarse grained and multi-use at the table and also in recipes except for delicately textured recipes. Does not contain iodine.

Sea salt-

Table salt- The standard shaker salt, finely ground that dissolves fast. Good for baking. Usually fortified with iodine, a nutritional supplement, but may give a bitter flavor. Use half the amount of coarse salt if substituting.

Black peppercorns-  unripe dried berries of the pepper plant.  Used whole when used tied with other spices and herbs in a sachet for stews, soups. Also used cracked, the coarser the more bite.

Cayenne pepper- Known as ground red pepper made from the dried red flesh of a variety of red chili peppers. Although it gives a lot of heat, it also has a lot of flavor.

Dried chile pepper- pure chile powder contains only ground hot peppers such as Anaheim, ancho, Aji, habanero, with the spiciness dependant on the type of pepper used.

Paprika- a powder made from a particular type of pepper variety.  Bright red in color, flavor can be from mild to bold, and sweet or smoky.   

Pimentòn-  also known as Spanish paprika, a blend of dried and often smoked red peppers. Three types are made: sweet (dulce), medium (agridulce), and hot (picante). Used in Spanish dishes such as paella.

Red pepper flakes- also called crushed red pepper, this is a coarse seasoning made from the flesh and the seeds of dried chili peppers. The level of heat depends on the chili pepper used and the age.

White peppercorns- Whether whole or ground, they are used for like colored dishes. It is not a direct substitution for black pepper.   

Spices and Herbs are also used for seasonings.  For the most part, spices are derived from grinding seeds while herbs are leafy trimmings from plants.

Spices have a pungent, distinctive flavor and smell. Here’s a few and ways to use them, some are combined for blends that appeal to many palettes:

·        Allspice- russet brown pea-sized berry of a tree in South America. A scent like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg often used with these spices.  Used in desserts to impart a spicy note.

·        Anise – small seeds that are used whole or ground. Distinct licorice flavor similar to fennel. Used to flavor savory and sweet dishes and also liqueurs.

·        Cardamon- use the seeds for a sweet, spicy flavor. Use seeds or ground in dessert recipes. Common in Scandinavian, Indian and African cuisine.

·        Celery seed- taste strongly of celery and aromatic.  Use in small amounts in soups, stews, breads. Works well where the watery flesh of celery would not be appropriate in a recipe. Great substitute when you don’t have any fresh celery.

·        Cinnamon- the dried bark of a tropical tree, it is rolled as sticks for flavoring punches and canned goods. Also used ground in many dessert dishes and also in savory dishes in the Middle East and Asia.

·        Coriander- the seed of cilantro herb plant. Sweet and flowery, totally different from the cilantro leaf. Grind to release the flavor and use in soups and encrusted with a little mustard and honey on salmon.  Used by fine chefs in every cuisine.

·        Clove- dried, unopened myrtle flower buds. Used whole to stud roasts and ham, the flavor is spicy and woodsy. Ground cloves are used in gingerbread and spiced desserts such as apple and pumpkin pies.

·        Cumin- Seeds that are dry roasted and ground for use in chili powder and curry powder. A staple in Southwestern, Latin American and Indian cuisines, use in spice rubs and marinades.

·        Fennel- seeds from the herb plant fennel, not the bulb. Flavor like licorice, used in Mediterranean and Indian cuisine, and also in sausage.

·        Ginger- a fibrous root grated, candied or dried and powdered. Has a sweet, spicy flavor used in Indian and Asian cuisine. Dried powder is used in deserts and baked goods.

·        Juniper berries- the bluish black fruit of the juniper bush, used fresh or dried to flavor meats and strong flavored dishes, and also gin.

·        Mustard- Mature seeds of the mustard plant, which the young leaves are used also in salads or sautéed. Ground seeds are mixed with juice, vinegar, wine or water to form a paste or emulsion for use as a condiment or seasoning before or during cooking. Mustard powder is simply fine ground mustard seed. Use powder in dressings, dry rubs and other recipes.

·        Nutmeg- hard egg shaped seeds that are grated fresh by most professional chefs. Also available in powder and used in savory and sweet recipes. Pungent in flavor, use a little in egg and custard dishes and also on sweet potatoes.

·        Saffron- the orange-red threads are the stigmas of the fall crocus, (explains why it is so expensive). They are graded by their potency to determine the price. It is a prized seasoning for Mediterranean and Near Eastern cuisines, giving a distinctive vivid shade of yellow to any dish.

·        Star anise- not to be confused with anise seed although has the same licorice flavor. These are star-shaped pods that contain a seed in each point. A member of the magnolia family, it is widely used in Asian cuisine and in canning and pickling recipes.  A key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.

·        Turmeric- a root related to ginger and used dried and powdered.  Peppery and bitter, it is used in curries and many other Indian dishes, providing a golden hue.


Herbs are easy to grow and dry for extended use. Go to our GROW page to find out how to grow and use individual herbs as we feature them.

Herbs and their uses:

·        Basil- leaves have many uses and called the “king” of herbs. Many varieties are grown, Sweet (Genovese) Basil being the favorite. Use in dishes using tomatoes, mushrooms, chicken, pasta rice and eggs. Fresh is best as dried brings out the minty component in its flavor.  Pesto is a classic basil recipe. Used extensively in Italian cuisine.

·        Bay- Use whole leaves crushed to release flavor, fresh or dried, discarded when finished cooking.  Fresh leaves should be left a couple days to wilt to remove any bitterness. Dried leaves are more intense in flavor and need to be used sparingly in stews, soups, meat roasts and pasta dishes. Bay has a spicy, woodsy flavor. Very pungent.

·        Chervil- fine leaves are found in ‘fines herbes’ essential in French cooking. Leaves similar to parsley but has a delicate flavor like anise.  Use in poached fish and shellfish, egg dishes, butter sauces, cream cheeses and soups, and green salads. Add late in cooking as the delicate flavor will be lost if cooked too long.

·        Chives- a member of the onion family, chives have a mild onion flavor used traditionally on baked potatoes but may be used for a green garnish in any savory dish. Also, garlic chives are a more pungent, bold flavor with hints of garlic flavor.

·        Cilantro- the leafy part of the coriander plant. Used as a garnish or in many Mexican and Southwestern dishes such as salsa and guacamole.  Lower, larger leaves are preferred to the fine upper leaves. A very unique aroma and flavor like anise.

·        Dill- use leaves in egg and cucumber dishes. Use seeds in breads, braised cabbage, stews, and rice recipes. Add leaves fresh to fish combined with butter and lemon.  Both leaves and seeds are used in Scandinavian, German, and Eastern European recipes.

·        Fennel- leaves used in baked or grilled dishes, especially fish. Also in mayonnaise, sauces and dressings.

·        Garlic- Although leaves may be sliced and used for seasoning, more flavor is achieved by using the root bulb. Indispensable in the kitchen, may be used to enhance almost any dish.  Use whole, sliced or minced. The smaller you chop it the spicier the flavor. Good fresh, dried or preserved in oil.

·        Lemon Balm- leaves have a delicate lemony fragrance and flavor, a great substitute for lemon or a great balance with lemon to cut the acidity. Fresh leaves are used over dried as the dried lose their flavor very quickly when stored. Use in egg dishes, teas, drinks and desserts. Adds zest to veggie dishes.

·        Lemongrass- stalks have flowery lemon scent and taste. Mature stalks are harvested and used fresh or dried. Common in Asian cuisine but may be used in any recipe calling for lemon.

·        Marjoram and Oregano- listed together as they are cousins with oregano being a stronger flavor. Use fresh or dried leaves in vinegars and oils for dressings. Flavor Italian tomato sauces and pizza sauce. While oregano can be added for long simmering cooking, marjoram should be added towards the end of cooking.

·        Mint- best to use fresh leaves over dried in drinks, soups, salads, sauces and with fruit, meats, poultry and fish. Although many varieties to grow, spearmint is most widely used for mint sauce or jelly for lamb, and also for mint juleps. Peppermint is used for flavoring liqueurs, and sweet candy and desserts.

·        Parsley- comes in flat and curly, but flat is preferred for cooking as flavor holds up better.  A garnish of fresh leaves adds color and flavor to many recipes like soup, salads, stews, pasta, cheese and on and on.  Essential in ‘Gremolada”. Dried leaves can be used but flavor is diminished.

·        Rosemary- leaves carry a strong, pungent smell and taste. Used to flavor roasts, lamb and roasted veggies. A classic with poultry and potatoes. Strip leaves from the stem and chop. The dried leaves maintain their flavor well for storage. You may also use sturdy stems as BBQ skewers to make kabobs.

·        Sage- leaves are used fresh or dried, dried being very potent. A classic in stuffing and poultry recipes and in “Saltimbocca”. Also pairs well with pork, sausage and rich, fatty meats.

·        Savory- leaves have a strong, peppery flavor similar to thyme. With winter and summer varieties, the summer is more commonly used. Add to sauces and vinegars, beans, stuffing, fish and cheese. Fresh or dried may be used. A main ingredient in “Herbes de Provence”

·        Tarragon- a classic in French cuisine found in ‘Fines Herbes’.  Use fresh as flavor is quickly lost if dried. May be preserved fresh in vinegar. Add to Bẻarnaise sauce, omelets, mushrooms, fish, poultry and beef. May also substitute Mexican tarragon for the French version in the South as French variety will not grow in the Florida.

·        Thyme- A classic in European cuisine. Use the fresh or dried leaves of common or German thyme in slow cooked dishes using beef, pork or poultry.  Use lemon thyme with fish and chicken and in teas. Strip tiny leaves from fresh stems by raking with a fork. A main ingredient in “Bouquet Garni”.

Spice and Herb combos:

·        Bajan- Popular spice blend from Barbados using shallots, garlic, hot peppers, and equal amounts of ginger, thyme , marjoram, ground cloves and salt. Great as a rub for grilled fish.

·        Bouquet Garni- Bay, parsley and thyme

·        Curry Powder- Roast 6 dried chili peppers, 2 tbsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. mustard seeds, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds over med heat in heavy skillet. Grind and then combine with ½ tsp. ground ginger, and ½ tsp. ground turmeric

·        Fines Herbes-  Classic French blend of 4 herbs: parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. Best if chopped fresh. Also may be added, thyme, rosemary, sage, and savory.

·        Herbes de Provence-  Classic French herb blend of thyme, savory, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and lavender flowers.

·        Herb Salt- 1 lb sea salt, 4 crumbled bay leaves, 2 tbsp. dried thyme , 2 tbsp. dried rosemary and 1 tsp. dried oregano. Any other combination of dried herbs may be used to your liking.

·        Pickling Spice- 1 tbsp. each whole peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, hot pepper flakes, allspice berries, dill seed, and mace.  Add 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 2 crumbled bay leaves,
      1 tsp. whole cloves, and 2 tbsp. ground ginger.

·        Quatre-Epices- French spice mix of ground 1 tbsp peppercorns, 2 tsp. whole cloves. Mix with 2 tsp. grated nutmeg and 1 tsp. ground ginger.

·        Scarborough Fair- Foursome of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  Mix fresh amounts with parsley double the amount of others and use with meats and oily fish.

·        Spiced Salt- Add your favorite combination of sea salt, peppercorns and other spices and let infuse for a month.

·        Zảatar- Middle Eastern spice mix of sumac berries (not North American poison type), thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano and salt. Use in bread, rice, veggie and meat dishes.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wildflower Seedballs

Wildflower Seed Balls
Growing wildflowers near the veggie garden will attract bees & butterflies. Bees & butterflies will help your veggie plants like tomatoes & peppers make more fruit by pollination of the flowers.
What you will need:
  • A bowl for mixing
  • 3 parts peat moss or coconut coir, 3 parts clay soil or compost, 1 part wood ash
  • Handful of wildflower seed
  • Water
What to do:
  1. Place all ingredients in bowl.
  2. Add water, a little at a time, until mixture sticks together when squeezed in your hand.
  3. Form mixture into balls the size of meatballs by passing a small amount back & forth between your hands, squeezing gently each pass till forms a tight ball.
  4. Place on a tray to dry overnite.
  5. Toss seed balls into areas of the yard that will not be disturbed or mowed. A ditch or swale by the edge of the street is a great spot.

With the help of spring & summer rains,
you should have wildflowers!!
Many will come back year after year.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fail Proof Seed Starting

Using this self-watering kit from Lee Valley Tools will make it possible.
Although seed starting may seem a little daunting, there are many reasons to give it a try. 
Starting your own seeds has many advantages;

Varieties are endless when purchasing seed versus the small selections available as transplants.

*  Although organic seeds are limited, any seeds started organically are better than conventionally
    grown transplants that may have already been treated with pesticides.

*  Chance of disease is greater from transplants purchased. The New York area had a bad blight
    outbreak a few years ago that spread through the transplants from one of the home improvement stores.

* Price, price, price!  Seeds are much cheaper than transplants if you wish to garden for the
   purpose of saving money by growing your own.

Learn more....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Slow Money Investing, Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is


Transition Sarasota kicked off  Eat Local Week with a lecture and book-signing by Woody Tasch, author of Slow Money, Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered”.

 In his book, Tasch’s ideas on investing with a philanthropic purpose in small food enterprises such as local farms has created a real flurry of interested investors and potential companies in search of business loans.  He makes the claim that, “We have serious structural problems in the food system”.  Changing our current system to use more local, conscientious food resources will promote prosperity and security of the community.  Considering the resources used to ship our food the average 1500 miles to the consumer is just one example. These ideas have led to a wave of millions of dollars of investments into small food businesses nationwide.
Woody admits that he is surprised about the “movement” he started. Now he is the founder and chairman of the Slow Money Alliance, helping to connect investors and the businesses with which will rebuild our food economy. 

He went on to say that our money moves “too fast”, creating the volatility we see so frequently in today’s financial markets.  “Although our economic growth is substantial, our well-being is not,” Woody said.

Over the past few decades, our investment options have switched from the outright purchase of stock in certain companies to the complex world of mutual funds, mergers, and takeovers of small companies by larger ones that can compete more efficiently. Our “financial managers” have distanced themselves from the consumer leaving us unaware of the actual companies we are investing in.

Our money may not be invested as we would choose; companies we have a connection to and would help restore our food system to a sustainable one.  Instead, we have developed a system that’s focused on the rate and speed of returns.

With the extreme highs and lows of the markets of recent years, have our 401K’s really showed such spectacular gains?  Sure, we had some major gains years ago, but they were followed by a collapse and feelings of insecurity and panic that doomsday was on the horizon. Then we bailed out the big guys and left small businesses to fend on their own, definitely not helping our well-being.

So we have more stuff; and cheaper stuff in more ways than one.  We have less costly food but of inferior quality. We are undernourished, overweight, plagued with immunity problems and allergies. Again, this is not helping our well-being.

“It’s time to stare the pig in the face”, says Woody. And he means this literally. If you are tired of being fed “pink slime”; then take control of your food by investing in your food supply.  Why hand your money over to brokers to invest in companies where only money is the bottom line; invest where you are the bottom line.

In just 4 years since he wrote the book, the Slow Money Alliance has 17 chapters and 6 investment clubs that have invested $24 million in 185 deals supporting small food enterprises and farms. In investment clubs, each member invests a small amount of money and takes part in each investment decision. 

The following morning there was an investor’s briefing in which Woody discussed the nuts and bolts, or more like the fruits and nuts of Slow Money Investing. Perhaps the time has come for people to take control of their money and well-being and invest in the future of their food resources.  It is time to stare the pig in the face and look in the mirror for the answers to change the status quo. Find out more at Slow Money.



Thursday, April 4, 2013

To Kill a Rat, or Not

You've seen them, though you probably wouldn't admit it to anyone for fear of seeming dirty.  If you garden in Florida or elsewhere, and especially if you have fruit trees, the Fruit Rat or Roof Rat is part of the your eco-system.
Now, I usually enjoy most of the critters in the yard, but I like fussy tails and this guy gives me the creeps because he has a hairless tail.
Also, the worst part is that he has been eatng my seedlings, year after year in the greenhouse.

So, I constructed screened covers to keep him (more likely them) out but I never have enough and I forget to cover them in time.

Then, I placed the seedling trays hanging on barbed wire from the rafters, still they munched.

I dusted hot pepper all over, didn't stop them.

Set traps with peanut butter, worked the first time and I got one, yeah.

But then, the next guy figured how to lick the traps clean without triggering the trap. And we bought every brand available, same results.

During this process of trial and error, I noticed that when peanut butter was available, the seedlings were left untouched. Hmmm...

So now, I just leave the peanut butter jar open near the seedlings when they are in there to divert rather than assassinate the enemy.  Maybe we can have a peaceful coexistance.

yeah right, until next season when the little buggers will be selling tickets for free peanut butter.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Florida Permaculture Convergence

Eat Local Guide :: Sarasota Edition

February 8, 2013

Eat Local Guide :: Sarasota Edition


Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: 'Culinary Herbs from Garden to Table' by Michele Pasch

Recently published, this HOW-TO guide is filled with base recipes for the creative cook to embellish on their own.  Instead of the usual specific recipes we see in cookbooks, Michele gives basic recipes for marinades, dressings, pastes, butters that you can doctor up with your own herbal additions.

Michele Pasch, a healthy food instructor and speaker, has spent a lifetime working in many fine hotels and restaurants.  A wife and mother of six (how did she find the time to write this book), she shares her wealth of knowledge creating herbal formulas in her kitchen.

Michele takes the reader from the basics of growing your herbs through to harvest, kitchen prep and ultimately into recipes.

This is a great guide for the beginner or well seasoned gardener-cook.  She breaks down the herbs into families and gives descriptions of the flavors to expect from each hern and the cuisine and dishes that they work well in. 

I have had many people say to me that they love herbs but just don't know how to use in recipes. This book gives info on how to experiment with the flavors of the individual herbs.

My favorite section includes recipes for dips, vinaigrettes, sauces, rubs, and salts to make to keep on hand or in the pantry, making use of your harvest till next season.

There are tips and creative ideas for gifts or entertaining.  An easy, concise read that gets to the point and gives the reader just what they need to be a successful herb grower and chef. There is life beyond basil!

You can purchase this book through Michele’s website: FlourishingKitchen.com

I give this book 5 stars!!