I remember when I first made the decision to move away from high sugar, high salt food, to more wholesome, natural food. It was the day that I realized that the pre-packaged food tasted like garbage compared to what I could cook at home. The saying is true, “Why go out for hamburger when you can have steak at home?”
The key is to understand how to give your taste buds the flavor and variety they desire without the added sugar and salt. Fresh and dried herbs and spices are the key to satisfying your taste buds, your brain, and your stomach. Many people are afraid to cook with herbs and spices because they don’t know how. So I challenge you to cook with your nose. If you do, you will learn how to cook creatively. You will be known as the best chef in the family!
When I was teaching my young cousins how to cook, I noticed that they would instinctively bring every spice and herb up to their nose for a whiff. Since smell and taste are biologically linked, it made total sense. So if your dried herbs and spices aren’t fragrant, or if they smell musty, then it is time to do some tossing. They’re not worth keeping. It is important that you have good quality spices and herbs Restock at a good spice store like Penzey’s, or another specialty store near you.
Once you have your fragrant new spices, line them up in a row, one by one. Smell and taste each herb and spice. Think about the types of food that you love to cook. Does this flavor appear in that food? What types of foods would this spice or herb compliment? You will then start to become familiar with what is available to you. Then, when you are preparing a recipe, think about your spice cupboard. Ask yourself, “What spice or herb scents would go well with what I am making?” What are other herbs and spices that are close to the ones called for in the recipe? Try it out, and don’t be afraid to be daring! Your family will live with an occasional flop, and they will sing your praises for the daring experiment gone deliciously right (like roasted or mashed sweet potatoes with curry powder and red pepper flakes—try it, trust me.).
Italian seasoning (for Italian, chicken, and pork).
Garlic powder (everything)
Onion powder (everything)
Bay leaves (for slow cooking)
Cumin (Southwestern and pork or beef)
Coriander (for Southwestern, Mexican, or Indian dishes.)
Sage (pork and chicken)
Cinnamon (baking and to add depth to meat dishes)
Real vanilla extract (not imitation stuff)
Cayenne pepper and/or red pepper flakes (adds depth to so many dishes.)
High quality salt and black pepper (obviously, almost forgot about it)
The best way to find herbs is to have your own garden. If you don’t have space for a large outdoor garden (where most herbs will grow perennially—or in the case of dill, like weeds), you can plant a windowsill herb garden. Then you can always add a fresh kick to your meals.
I know I failed at several apartment herb gardens before I finally figured it out. Like all gardening, its about sun and water. Pick a sunny window. If possible make it a southern or western window. You may see a window with sun in the afternoon when you’re home, but you don’t realize that is the only time it gets sun. Herbs need 6-9 hours of sun a day. Once you have that window, double stack your herbs. We put a shelf across the middle of our best window so we could have twice the space.
These are your good window garden herbs:
Basil (pair this with a slice of fresh summer tomato and melt in happiness)
Rosemary (best fresh, not as good dried)
Cilantro (essential to be fresh).
Dill (a personal favorite)
Oregano (better dried, but also good fresh).
Thyme (good on everything)
Water is usually the biggest problem (it was for me). First, you need to make sure that you have a dish of some sort under your pot to catch the water. That way it doesn’t get on the sill, and it sits under your plant. When the soil is dry in the pot, it will suck up the water from the dish. Then, push in your index finger into the soil. If it is moist down at your fingertip, you don’t need to water. If it’s dry, water away. How often this is differs based on the plants, the pots, and your climate. Even here in the dry Rocky Mountain West I only had to water every other day. Gnats are another good clue. If you have gnats on your plants, you have way over watered them.
I hope that this helps you learn ways to kick up your cooking and Sizzle in the Kitchen like a Diva!