Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spice Up Dinner with Homemade Spice Mixes

Quickly putting together a meal sometimes means whipping up whatever is on hand. Even if you plan  meals in advance, life gets in the way sometimes and plans have to be changed. It’s not your fault. That’s just modern life.

Quick meals don’t have to be boring meals, though. Changing the herbs and spices is a great way to add flavor variety to our lives, especially when improvising. Instead of endless trial and error, trying to figure out which spices go with what herb for what dish, try using a pre-made spice mix. Just don’t rely on the ones at the grocery store.

In his book Swiftly Seasoned, Graham Kerr introduces the idea of “Ethmixes,” spice and herb blends based on regional flavors and made at home. I love this idea. They’re a wonderful addition to the cooking arsenal, quickly adding depth of flavor and variety.

Here are two of my favorite European blends. They are based on Graham Kerr’s recipes, modified for availability of ingredients, amounts likely to be used within a year, and my own tastes. I’ll share more of my mix variations in the coming days.

Equipment Needed

Making your own spice mixes is easy. You will need some equipment that you may not  have purchased before, though. First is a good coffee/spice mill. I don’t drink coffee, so I only need one. If you grind your own coffee, though, buy a separate mill or your coffee will have the peculiar flavor of herbs and spices.

The next is a collection of empty spice jars. Almost any small jar with a tight lid will do. If they are UV resistant, that’s even better. Mark your jars with the date you create the mix. Use them within 6 months to a year. After that, the flavors will weaken and some will simply become stale. Ick.

For each of the following mixes, simply combine the ingredients in your spice mill and grind into a fine powder. With some mixes, you will mix in addition ingredients after you grind the others. Some herbs instill better flavor if used that way, instead of being ground.

Scandinavian Medley
2 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
3 Tbl dried parsely
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt

Grind into a fine powder, then mix in 1/2 tsp dried dill weed

This one is much simpler that Graham Kerr’s version. I enjoy it in fish dishes, vegetable soup, and almost everything else.

Northern France Mix
3 tsp dried tarragon
3 dried bay leaves, crushed
2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground cloves
4 tsp dried parsley

Grind into a fine powder.

I like this mix as a rub for roasts or in meaty stews.

Stay tuned. I'll be sharing more spice mixes, next time.

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