Popular Spices and Herbs used for Cooking

Popular spices and herbs used for cooking differ for many reasons. Different countries use different spices and herbs. Different cultures use different spices and herbs. Popular spices and herbs used for cooking can also vary from region to region, by religion, family, individual and/or health situations. They can also differ dish to dish. What I use in my cooking could be very different from what you use and vice versa. I know I use an entirely different array of spices and herbs than my mother did. My sisters even have different spices and herbs that work for each of them, so I’m sure there are many different combinations of spices and herbs that can be used in cooking.

The most popular combination of spices and herbs used in cooking are salt, pepper and garlic. Different types of salt, coarse, ground and hot pepper, and whole, minced, chopped or roasted garlic is added to a number of dishes. This classic trio doesn’t vary much from one country to another. Most people use them. They’ve even come out with a bottled version called grill seasoning. It goes good with anything from salads to meats and adds plenty of flavor to your cooking.

Different countries have combinations of spices that are used in most every dish. Italian foods usually contain a mixture of basil, oregano and thyme and Southern American fare uses cilantro, parsley and oregano. The French have their own combination as I’m sure do the Africans, Spanish and Australians. Depending upon where you live, the combination of herbs you use reflects your culture and is a part of your heritage.

Different dishes call for different spices and herbs. While I would cook seafood with garlic, butter, dill, salt and pepper, I would not use that combination on steak. I might use garlic, oregano and salt, pepper and lemon. Most vegetables only need salt, pepper and garlic, whereas chicken or turkey tastes better with rosemary and sage. Some cultures like to heat up their foods by adding hot sauce or hot peppers. Some regions use what is locally grown such as tomatoes, onions or even fruits.

If you or your family have health concerns, you may not be able to use certain spices, herbs or flavorings. Some people have allergies or other health or diet related issues that only allow the basic seasonings and do not allow salt, pepper or things that interfere with medications. Usually this type of diet allows fresh herbs or other natural flavorings. Check with your health professional before adding any new spice to your diet if you suffer from a condition that requires medical attention.

Finally, individual tastes dictate what types of spices and herbs people use. My mom didn’t like the taste of salt so she never used it. I cook with salt but don’t add it after cooking. My daughter doesn’t like onions, but she has learned to pick them out when she comes to dinner at my house. Whatever your tastes are, there is probably a group of popular spices and herbs you like to use for cooking. If I were to ask ten different people, I’m sure I would get ten different combinations of popular spices and herbs used for cooking.

Pickle magic: Turning cucumbers into pickles

Everyone loves pickles, but most people are content to buy their pickles at the grocery store. However, buying store pickles can be quite expensive, particularly as these tasty treats tend to disappear all too quickly. On the other hand, there are many methods to turn cucumbers into pickles, some of which are surprisingly simple.

The simplest way to make a small amount of pickles is to use the vinegar left behind in a finished jar of store bought pickles. Wash and slice a fresh cucumber, put the slices into the jar, screw the lid on firmly, and place the jar in the fridge. Stir the contents of the jar once a day for three or four days, or until the cucumbers change color. They are then ready to eat.

Larger amounts of cucumbers can easily be transformed into sweet bucket pickles, which are also known as fridge pickles. To start, you will need a clean one-gallon ice cream bucket with a lid.

Bucket pickles: Ingredients

5-6 garden cucumbers (peeled and sliced) or 2-3 long English cucumbers (sliced)
1 onion, sliced
2 red or green peppers, cut into strips (optional)
4 cups white sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 Tbsp. pickling salt
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. turmeric

Bucket pickles: Procedure

1.  Wash and slice enough cucumbers to fill the bucket

2.  Layer cucumber slices with onion slices and peppers.

3.   Make a brine by mixing the sugar, vinegar, salt and spices in a pot. Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil while stirring, so that the sugar dissolves

4.  Pour the brine over the cucumbers in the bucket.

5.  Put the lid on the bucket and place it in the fridge.

6.  Stir the pickles once a day for three days. When the cucumbers change color from pale green to light olive green, they are pickled and ready to eat.

For a less sweet pickle, reduce the sugar to two cups and add four to six chopped cloves of garlic. For additional flavor, add a teaspoon of dried dill.

Bucket pickles will keep for up to six months in the fridge, but will probably be eaten long before the six months are up.

Other methods of making pickles include processing and fermenting.

There are literally hundreds of recipes for making processed pickles. Cooks.com has a large selection of recipes, including garlic, dill and red hot cucumber pickles, as well as a variety of recipes for pickling other vegetables.

Fermentation is a traditional, healthy method of making pickles using salt to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. The fermentation process makes nutrients in the cucumber readily available to the digestive systems, and creates a pickle which is a good source of B-complex vitamins and beneficial bacteria. Kosher and Polish pickles are popular fermented pickles. 

So for those who want to transform cucumbers into pickles, there is a recipe for everybody, from those who want to spend an easy five minutes slicing a cucumber into a jar of pickle juice to those who are tempted to explore the intricacies of fermented pickles.

Perfect Roast Potatoes

Roast potatoes are a delicious accompaniment to many types of meals, not just the traditional roast beef. Equally, they can be prepared in a number of different ways, either in a deep fryer or in the oven. You can even select the traditional option of roasting your potatoes in animal fat or make the healthier choice of cooking them in a vegetable oil. Whichever way you choose to roast your potatoes, however, the process begins in selecting an appropriate type of potato. Specific options available will vary by location but a starchy variety is required rather than waxy.

The two recipes below are very different but each in its own way makes for delicious roast potatoes.

Baby potatoes pan roasted in sunflower oil

Allow six to eight small new potatoes per person. Wash the potatoes but leave them unpeeled and add them to a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil before reducing the heat to simmer for half an hour. Use a colander to drain the potatoes over your sink and return them to the pot. Put the lid on and set aside to cool completely.

Put your deep fat fryer – containing sunflower oil – on to heat to 350F. While the fryer is heating, remove the skin from the potatoes. This can usually be done simply by rubbing them gently with the ball of your thumb.

The potatoes should be deep fried for five or six minutes until golden brown and crisp. If you are frying a large quantity of potatoes, you should do so in batches as adding too many to the fryer will significantly reduce the oil temperature, increase the cooking time and affect the quality of your roast potatoes.

Lift the potatoes from the fryer in their basket and tip them in to a colander lined with kitchen paper to drain. It is a good idea to salt them at this stage as the seasoning will be more effective while they are still pan hot.

Potato chunks oven roasted in goose fat

This is probably the more recognizable form of roast potatoes for most people. One large baking sized potato per person is about the right quantity for this recipe. Peel the potato and cut in to six to eight equal sized chunks of around one inch. Add to a pot of cold, slightly salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes until the potatoes are just starting to soften. Drain, return to the pot, cover and cool.

Add a tablespoon of goose (or duck) fat per portion to a large roasting tray and place it in to the oven. Put the oven on to preheat to 400F, melting and heating the fat at the same time.

Before you remove the potatoes from the pot to the hot fat, shake the pot a little bit to fluff up the edges of the potatoes. This will give them extra crispiness when they are cooked. Very carefully put them in the hot fat and stir around with a wooden spoon to ensure even coating. Put the tray back in to the oven for twenty minutes or until they are the color you desire. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain before service.

This method of roasting potatoes could also be used where beef or another meat has been roasted in the oven. While the meat is resting, the potatoes would be added to the hot juices and roasted in the same way.

Pepper Pepper in Food too much Pepper in Food

Pepper adds a spicy flavour to all dishes. Some people like the taste of pepper more than others and generally they have the amount to add down to a science when they are cooking. However, there are times when accidents happen, such as the top coming off the bottle as you are shaking in the pepper resulting in an extraordinary amount getting into the food. If you do nothing about it, chances are you won’t be able to eat the dish and have to throw it out and start over. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to save the dish you are cooking to counteract the taste of the pepper overwhelming the rest of the ingredients.

The first thing you need to do when you realize that you have added too much pepper to whatever dish you are cooking is to take a spoon and try to scoop out as much of it as possible. Usually the pepper will stay in the same spot making this easy to do, but you will not be able to get all of it because with the disturbance of the spoon you will disperse it throughout the rest of the ingredients. If you make this mistake when cooking soup the pepper will dissolve almost immediately, so you have to be quick to try to scoop it out.

Even when you scoop out as much of the pepper as you can the taste will probably make the food inedible. If you add a lemon cut in ¼ wedges to the dish, this will counteract the taste of pepper without adding the taste of lemon. In times when you don’t have a lemon handy, a small amount of lemon juice added to the mixture will produce the same result.

If you cut a potato in half and add it to the dish, this will also help to soak up the pepper and save the meal. Sugar also works to dispel the peppery taste in food because the sweetness helps to tone down the spicy taste. You may feel that adding more sugar will make the dish taste sweeter than it should be and while this is correct when you use the right amount of pepper, it has the opposite result when you add too much pepper.

So, the next time you accidentally overdo it with adding pepper for flavour, you don’t have to start from scratch again. You can save the meal by using these tips and perhaps create a new favourite recipe at the same time.

Product Review Kikkoman Panko Bread Crumbs

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs by Kikkoman are an excellent choice to keep in the pantry.  This is a versatile product that allows for adaptation in many recipes.

Nutritionally Panko Bread Crumbs will not add much value to recipes. It has 110 calories in each half cup. With .5 grams of fat and 24 grams of carbs in that same half cup, Panko Bread Crumbs are better than some other purchased breadcrumbs.  Panko Bread Crumbs have 3 grams of protein and provide 2 % of the daily recommendation of iron. That is the extent of the nutritional benefits of the product.  It is quite high in sodium as well at 40 mg in a half cup, which provides 2% of the daily allowance.

While Kikkoman Japanese Style Bread Crumbs may not be the most nutritional ingredient in recipes, they are far better than many other purchased breadcrumbs. Most of the other types of purchased bread crumbs are very high in sodium, measuring in at up to 19% of the daily allowance in a half cup. In comparison, Panko bread crumbs are a low sodium product.  Many other bread crumbs also have some levels of sugar in them as well as having a higher level of fat. Even though Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are not the most nutritious item, it is better than most types of bread crumbs.

An advantage to having a package of Panko Bread Crumbs on the pantry shelf is that it is convenient. Whether it is adding a little filler to a meat loaf or quickly coating a piece of fish, Panko breadcrumbs are easy to add to any recipes that one already makes.

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are a premiere coating for fish and seafood. The reason it is the best choice for seafood is that is creates a crispy brown crust, but it also creates a good barrier to the seafood itself. This way the crust browns and becomes crispy but the oil does not reach the meat, so the product does not become greasy.

Most often Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs are found in stores plain and unseasoned. Any recipe that uses the product as a coating will need some seasoning. It is lower in sodium than many other similar types of coatings such as cracker crumbs or bread crumbs. If lower sodium is not the purpose in the ingredient choice, a little salt may be added as well as the other seasonings. On chicken breasts or tenders, combine Panko with parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Dip the chicken pieces in a little egg wash and then roll in the crumb mixture before frying. This makes an excellent homemade chicken strip or nugget.

Another way to incorporate Panko in recipes is to combine the Panko with a little olive oil or melted butter. Use as a topping on baked casseroles or macaroni and cheese. It will create a toasty crumb topping that makes the dishes delicious.

Fried zucchini can be made by coating in a little egg wash and then dipping in Panko before frying. Add a half of a cup of Panko crumbs to any type of meatball or meatloaf as a binding to create a moist yet firm product.

Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs is not just for Asian cuisine. It can be incorporated into many other styles of cooking and is very convenient.

Preparing fresh mussels to eat

Mussels tend to be the forgotten shellfish. This is largely because they aren’t colorful, they grow on sea rocks and don’t really appear all that appetizing. Yet properly cooked and served, mussels are delectable and succulent, especially when they are as fresh as possible.

Cleaning

The first step, whether the mussels come from a store or right off the ocean rocks, is to clean them. They should be brushed under running water with either a stiff brush or a wire brush. The latter is preferable. This removes debris, sand and the thin material these animals use to adhere to rocks. None of this stuff adds to a great feast.

Preliminary cooking

The first cooking of mussels locks the flavor in. They can then be batter-fried, rolled in crumbs and fried, used in soups or stews, or cooked in a wide variety of ways. The first cooking also usually causes the shell to open, easing further preparation. When alive, mussels can close their shells incredibly tightly.

Prying them open can be quite a trick that is also likely to result in flesh wounds for the person trying it, from the tools that are being used.

Thankfully, preliminary cooking is easy to accomplish. In a pot, bring a gallon of water, to which a cup of salt has been added, to a full rolling boil. Put the mussels into the boiling salt water and allow them to stay there, covered by the water, for ten minutes. Using a ladle or slotted spoon, remove the shellfish from the pot and allow them to cool.

At this point, the shells should be popped open enough to grasp both shells with the hands and to open them completely. Pull the meat from the shells and prepare for the cooking. This is the really fun part because of all the possibilities.

Cooking

The mussel meat can be cooked in so many ways, it’s staggering. They can be made in almost every way that clams can be, and the results are often fabulous.

Here are only a few examples:

Coat the meat in scrambled eggs, then roll it in cracker crumbs. Fry these in hot bacon grease or olive oil, turning them periodically, until they are golden brown. This is great served hot as a main dish, with a wedge of lemon and homemade cocktail sauce, made from one cup of ketchup, 1 tablespoon grated horseradish, and 1/2 teaspoon dill weed. Sliced tomatoes are an exquisite side dish for this seafood, with or without green salad.

The meat can also be dipped in a thick beer batter and be deep fried. This method, as well as the last, can be served on a bed of hot cooked rice. The side dishes and sauce applies to mussels cooked this way as well.

A quite wonderful chowder can also be created. Finely slice or dice a few carrots, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, and garlic. Boil these until they are tender, usually about a half hour to 45 minutes. The water should be just deep enough to cover the vegetables.

Next, add the mussel meat, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon basil, and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Also add salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind the likes and dislikes of those who will be eating the chowder.

Bring the water back to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Allow it to simmer for another five minutes. For a super effect, this chowder can be served in cleaned oyster shell bowls. It tastes the same if none are available. A finishing touch is a sprig of parsley to make the dish as colorful as it is flavorful.

These are only a few cooking and meal ideas, but clearly, mussels are a great and often overlooked seafood. It is great that they are also far cheaper than clams and oysters, because of the lack of demand. They cost even less if a person can get them on their own. Yet, the flavor can wow people and make a belly full of rich and great tasting food.

It is worthwhile to properly cook and serve mussels. They are even healthy, but don’t tell anyone that part. Don’t spoil a fantastically flavorful meal by letting people know it is also good for them.

Preparing food without salt is easier than you think!

It is no news that salt is unhealthy when consumed in high amounts. We hear announcements from health organizations all the time about its dangers and the diseases it can aggravate or even cause. Everyone has heard how it affects hypertension.

Consuming too much salt can lead to stroke and heart disease. The American Heart Association says that about 98% of Americans consume over twice the amount of sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. They also say that if the amount of salt consumption was cut in half, then high blood pressure would decrease by 26%!

But abstaining from salt is almost as difficult for many than abstaining from sugar. It’s so easy to become addicted to these extreme tastes in foods.

And, with a little perseverance and creativity, as well as avoiding the “Salty Six,” as the Heart Association calls them, cooking virtually salt-free at home is how to do it.

Everyday salt traps

The first place to avoid adding salt is in the food preparation itself. When cooking, it’s such a habit to throw a shake of salt into the water when boiling vegetables, rice or pasta, or shaking some onto vegetables, when sautéing, etc. We shake salt onto meat, eggs and tomatoes. This everyday, free-wheeling, addition of salt when preparing foods, is the first occasion to stop the habit.

The second area to avoid adding salt is at the table itself. This is the toughest area because once the food is tasted and found lacking, the salt shaker is the immediate go-to response. 

However, if the salt is nowhere in sight, and a handy shaker of garlic powder, oregano, chili flakes and/or pepper are there instead, avoiding salt will be a good deal easier.

Preparing low-sodium, salt-free meals

Low sodium and salt-free food items are now fairly ubiquitous. They’re available in quality grocery stores in every city. Soup stock that is salt free and/or low sodium can easily be found, along with low-sodium tuna, salmon, special sauces and flavourings.

Today, with ready-made low sodium food items available, it is easier to avoid salt than ever before. And the best place to incorporate all these good intentions is while you’re preparing a meal at home.

Start by including spices, garlic and onions;striving to add flavour without the dreaded salt.

Cool ways to flavour it up

Oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage, tarragon, fennel, chili powder, cumin, curry, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper are a good selection of spices that add a robust taste to any meal. Learning to use these spices properly is important when trying to cook without salt. Here’s a quick rundown on how best to use them. If you can get fresh, they’ll pack an even bigger flavour punch!

  • thyme goes really well in stews, soups and even sauces. It lends a peppery taste
  • rosemary is superb with poultry and pairs well with citrus flavours
  • ginger is excellent in any Asian dish and has a wonderful, slightly hot taste.
  • sage, of course, is a good standby with fowl and stuffings.
  • tarragon is a unique flavour and a nice change with poultry; it lends a slightly licorice taste.
  • fennel has an even stronger licorice flavour- use on fowl and fish.
  • nutmeg adds a special peppery note to creamy or egg dishes.

As for the cumin and chili powder, they make any Tex-Mex,or Mexican food special and curry spices speak for themselves!

Many of these spices are super anti-oxidants, especially if fresh, so heavy-handedness is not a problem!

Foods that add flavour

Even without the spice, there are several food items which, in themselves, add a punch to a meal. Citrus, of course, especially lemon, is an undeniable flavour-booster. Onions and fresh garlic are also naturals in the taste department, as is tomato and tomato purees, no-salt tomato juice, sauces or paste.

A surprising flavour enhancer is green pepper. When this vegetable is added to a stew or soup, it packs a surprising hit of delicious taste. In the South, the cooking base trio is green pepper, carrot and onion instead of celery, carrot and onion and it works very well.

There are many excellent low-sodium recipes available for those who want to get started on this new life plan. It may be an eye-opener to see how easy it is to swap flavour for salt with these easy changes in your kitchen routine. You will be eating healthier and so will your family!

Recipes and Quick Concoctions that use Fresh Fruit

Kiwi, not grapes, make up the eyeballs of a sliced fresh fruit display in ways impractical to associate with grapes (aside from festive occasions such as Halloween). To have the black-seeded green kiwi looking up from its place in the fruity assembly reminds of its delicious, desirable, almost citrusy flavor just a step more pleasing than strawberries. The seeds of the kiwi are not harsh like those of the strawberry and for such reasons it makes a fine fruit to use in any fresh fruit array. Combining fresh fruit for quick and easy desserts affords a great and healthy idea to help cleanse away the pallor of modern living.

There are a great many fresh fruits available at the local marketplace with new fruits sometimes arriving from overseas over the years that had never been seen before on store shelves (pomegranate and acai readily come to mind). There are fresh nectarines, plums, apricots, bananas, and mangoes. And then there are vine fruits that include melons such as cantaloupe and watermelon. Berries range from raspberries and blackberries to blueberries and cherries. There are also cranberries, and not to forget pears, apples, grapes, and peaches. Fruit varieties go on and on in a variety of flavors both tart and harshly sour as well as sweet and delightfully tangy.

Any of these fresh fruits can be used to fill out the various recipes below with regard for emphasis between base and accent. In terms of regard for using fresh fruits in recipes below, fruit ‘base’ refers to the major fruit flavor being dispensed in the recipe, whereas the idea of ‘accent’ provides for incorporating flavors that otherwise would not be the best flavor to overdo.

Cheesecake

For a less fatty alternative to eating fatty, creme-filled products such as sugar wafers, Oreo whites, and whipped cream, practical cooks invented the cheesecake, a capable, baked dessert that can satisfy almost any dessert craving. Two general types of cheesecake are the New York type that use cream cheese and Italian varieties that use ricotta cheese. This creamy dessert features a crumbly cracker crust that can be topped with an exciting array of fresh sliced fruits.

Making cheesecake is actually a very easy two or three step combinative process. First, the crust is prepared and cooked briefly as necessary for even crispness that holds together. Next, ingredients are mixed together, blended smooth, poured over the pie crust in a springform pan, and baked. Some recipes call for adding a top layer sugary sour cream layer prior to chilling. Recipes are not difficult to come by, but consider that certain cheesecakes will vary in devotion.

Fresh fruit can be layered onto the top and served fresh out of the refrigerator.

Smoothie

Eating fresh fruit comes so close to drinking it that you may enjoy the smoothie much better. Keep in mind how you want the texture of the fruit while eating the blend. A smoothie can be made thick enough to eat with a spoon, like Greek yogurt, or thin enough to drink with a straw, like a cherry Slurpee.

Many recipes for these drinks call for ingredients of different thicknesses, from yogurt to milk. Training athletes may want them with protein powder. A very simple smoothie recipe that calls for milk foreshadows its resolute liquidness.

Peach smoothie

2 cups milk
2 cups peaches, cut up
¼ cup frozen OJ concentrate
2 Tablespoons Morena pure cane sugar
5 ice cubes

Dump all ingredients in a blender and liquefy at the highest setting.

Gelatin

Flavored gelatin, actually made for appreciative omnivores, offers a high-protein treat sugared and used in desserts, pies and jellies and commonly served chilled.

Fresh fruit mixed with gelatine offers a refreshing and somewhat light and flavorful dessert idea.

Fruited gelatine

A modestly fulfilling thing to do to fresh fruit is to suspend it inside flavored gelatine and serve it the same day. This longstanding recipe idea is so easy that it can be made in way under ten minutes.

Follow the instructions on the package until you have on hand a measuring cup with hot water and one with ice water. Mix the flavored gelatine in with the hot water in the designated storage container and then add your chopped, fresh fruit; this will associate the more concentrated flavor with the fruit. Now add the ice water and stir until the ice has dissolved, cover, and refrigerate. This dish can also be served with whipped cream.

It’s that easy.

Ambrosia

This delicious dish serves two. Its major components are orange slices and coconut at a mix of about 4:1 as the cup measures. Try ¼ cup of shredded coconut to 1 sectioned orange and add other fruits in lighter proportion to the orange.

Ambrosia fresca

One of the simplest fresh fruit desserts to assemble is Ambrosia. The basics of making this delectable concoction require use of orange’s segments, some shredded or flaked coconut (which may be processed out of some fresh shredded copra, as well), and cherries. Banana can also be added. And pineapple is optional, according to taste.

Frosts

A ‘frost’ could be the modern forerunner to the smoothie. Or, if you prefer, it is a smoothie that uses unflavored gelatin and fresh fruit ingredients. Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, Special Edition (©1959) describes it as being a cross between ices and sherbets. Substitute the cold water with ice and it can be tested as a smoothie. The following recipe can be made with fresh-picked raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, cherries, cranberries, rhubarb stalks, or peaches.

Strawberry frost

1 quart strawberries*
1 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup applesauce
¾ cup boiling water
¼ cup frozen water, cubed

* Substitute fruit of choice. Add ¼ cup of applesauce for fruit with mild flavor and ½ cup of applesauce for fruit with intense flavor, such as cherries; peaches are along the median. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice if using blueberries.

Prepare the gelatin by mixing with boiling water. Let sit for ten minutes.

Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and liquefy.

Drink it like a smoothie. Or process it in an ice cream maker for a unique, fresh-frozen dessert.

Desserts made with fresh fruit should be refreshing, above all. The recipes above — other than the cheesecake — rely almost exclusively on fresh fruit and can be ready to eat in mere minutes. They are also really delicious and rewarding to try because you know that fresh fruit will be good for you and tasty, too. These are a cinch to make after breakfast, so give it a go, and before lunchtime you’ll have an easy time with putting these recipes together.