Friday, September 17, 2010

Savory Walker mentioned an interest in learning about spice and herb combinations this morning. Not needing any further encouragement, I entered, "cookingt with herbs and spices" into my browser which conveniently pulled up the alternative, "cooking with herbs and spices" among the selected options. Hello. Selecting a basic Seasoning 101 course, I was pleased to find a fair amount of history (Yay!) included along with the practical selection, use, and description tips. Citing multiple other resources in the first couple of lessons, there is plenty of opportunity for information overload or to glean gobs of new information. I'm all in for the gobs of intriguing information, but will be compiling a simpler Cliff Notes version for actual use in the kitchen.
Up to this point, I've been slowly gathering a knowledge base from Other People's Kitchens, media articles, cooking shows from PBS to Food Network, and, um, well... the labels of the grocery store seasoning mixtures. All three lovies have enjoyed cooking classes at our local market, and the printed recipes they brought home made for good reading over Mom's morning coffee. Not a huge enthusiast of cookbooks, I do have a couple that I like to read and reread to try to imagine how ingredients might be combined in alternative ways with good results. (Not that the results are always good. Sometimes they're flat out dreadful.) I can measure and dump ingredients into a bowl or pot, but most of the time I simply prefer to substitute in whatever is on hand that fits the general need. For example, "oil" in a muffin or corn bread recipe might just as easily be sour cream. Why get overly picky?
This methodology does require a certain willingness to fail and an understanding of what qualities need to be similar in order to make a good substitution. As a near failure at high school chemistry, I am not the most likely person to be doing such experiments in the kitchen, but that's not stopped me yet. The big kids are learning Chemistry and it's baby sister Physical Science this year, so they'll be better equipped from an academic standpoint to prevent some of the more glaring oopsies. That said, the Boy's Chem teacher failed to discourage my eclectic cookery by putting some very exotic technical names to my explanation of acceptable substitutions for leavening agents while giving the Boy a "Real World" example of Chemistry's usefulness. I cannot repeat what she said (because I didn't understand it), but the Boy was looking at me with something that appeared to be heightened respect for being able to do whatever it was that was being discussed.
Still. There are limits. A hesitation to experiment with pricey spices and herbs are one of those. I've printed out a list of herb families and can already see relationships between seasonings I am curious about (like Marjoram), but didn't want to commit to purchasing without the foggiest notion of what to do with the stuff. (Marjoram is like Oregano. In fact, it's just Oregano that grows wild. Oh.) One can only imagine the possibilities as some familiar favorites like Cilantro (the fresh herb version) meet with the dried spice (Coriander) from the same plant in a new savory dish. While waiting for the kiddies to teach the answers to "Why?" stuff happens in the kitchen, it's going to be a grand adventure as Walker and I explore the relationships between various spices and herbs.

1 comment:

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I am shamelessly fond of curry. Spices and herbs make food WONDERFUL.