Foodie Friday: 10 Ways to Use Herbs

Something great happened the day I decided to be brave and begin experimenting with herbs and spices. I still use recipes, especially for baking. But cooking “by guess and by golly” is generally pretty much how I do it. Now I enjoy cooking much more. I also enjoy the results more.

For instance, I never make my famous spaghetti sauce the same way twice. I may be using the same herbs, but never in the same amounts, and it always turns out tasty. More than one person has said I should market it.

However, knowing a little about which spices and herbs work well with different foods can help. It can also be a boon to have some spice blends on hand to use so you don’t have to buy those small bottles and packets with additives and cranked up cost.

Add These to This to Get That

  • To enhance the flavor of beef, use bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, lemon pepper seasoning, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, or thyme.
  • When cooking with pork, which has a mild flavor, give it some oomph with basil, caraway seed, ground ginger, Italian seasoning, oregano, savory, rosemary, or garlic powder.
  • Where I live, we eat wild game. Enhance those flavors with marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, garlic powder, or onion powder.
  • Turkey is traditionally flavored with poultry seasoning or sage, but you can also try oregano, black pepper, herbs de Provence, onion powder, rosemary, savory, or basil.
  • Chicken and Cornish hens come alive with such herbs as dill weed, basil, ginger, oregano, thyme, chives, bay leaf, garlic and onion powders, paprika, rosemary, sage, or tarragon.

Make Your Own Seasoning Blends

If you need a little jump start to try some new herbs, here are a few blends you can mix up to experiment with.

  • Salad herb blend: 2 tsp. basil leaves; 1 tsp. dill weed; 1 tbsp. marjoram leaves; 1 tbsp. parsley flakes; 1 tbsp. tarragon leaves. If you like to add protein to your salad, match these ingredients to the list of which goes best with each herb.
  • Meat and vegetable blend: 1 tbsp. basil; 1 tsp. celery seed; 1 tbsp. marjoram; 1 tsp. onion powder; 1 tsp. thyme.
  • Taco seasoning: 1 ½ tbsp. oregano; 1 ½ tbsp. garlic powder; 1 tbsp. paprika; 2 tbsp. cumin; 1 tbsp. chili powder; ½ tsp. allspice.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak the blends to your own taste. There’s no right or wrong combination. An advantage to using herbs and blends is that you can spice up your food without using salt.

What’s That Flavor?

Herbs naturally have different flavors. In addition, they fall into categories of mild, medium and robust. Chives and parsley are examples of mild-flavored herbs. Some medium-flavored herbs are basil, dill weed, marjoram, and mint. Stronger-tasting herbs are those like bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.

 Tips for Keeping Herbs and Spices Fresh

  •  Avoid storing spices near the stove, dishwasher, sink or a window. Dried spices don’t spoil, but they can lose strength. Moisture and heat contribute to this. Be sure to never sprinkle or pour spices directly into a steaming pot since the steam introduced into the bottle hastens loss of flavor and aroma. It also results in caking. For the same reason, if you’re measuring from the bottle with a measuring spoon, be sure the spoon is dry.
  • Some folks like to use fresh herbs for everything and that’s a great idea. You can always substitute dried herbs for fresh if you know how, and vice-versa. Check it out here.

Next week, you’ll get ideas for enhancing other foods like pasta, vegetables and seafood. We’ll also have suggestions for substitutions, cooking tips, and a recipe or two.

Bon appetite!

Foodie Dips Into the Holidays

Foods that often turn up at a get-together are dips accompanying a chip of some kind. Right? But what if you’re tired of store-bought dips and want to bring one that’s as easy to prepare as it tasty?

The holiday season upon us, we’ll be invited to work, family, church, and other sorts of buffets. Foodie Friday helps out with a handful (not literally) of recipes featuring ease of prep and variety to boot.

Not to say men can’t be great cooks, but even the average guy who wants to show off a little can whip up a simple dip. In fact, the first recipe on the list comes from a man I used to work with. People raved over this dip from our department’s Christmas soiree and I was smart enough to ask for his recipe. (Thanks, Jerry!)

Seafood Dip

  • 2 T. dry onions
  • 2 T. water
  • 1 large can Albacore tuna, drained
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (fat-free, if preferred)
  • 1 T. hot sauce
  • 2 t. parsley flakes
  • 2 T. chili sauce
  • 2 T. horseradish

Mix dry onions and water together and let sit while mixing remaining ingredients. Blend onions into tuna mixture. Chill before serving.

Seafood dip made with salmon and plain yogurt

You can also use the same amount of red salmon in place of tuna. For either kind of seafood, be sure to drain it completely (“smash” it with a fork if you have to in order to get all the moisture out). Flake it so that it stirs in evenly.

Creamy Hot Artichoke Dip

  • 1 14-oz. jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 c. low fat mayonnaise
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients and bake uncovered at 350 degrees or until heated through. Serve warm. Although it’s better baked because you can get a nice brown crust on top, this dip can be prepared in one of those mini crock pots too. That will make it easier to transport and keep it warm once you get it to its destination. That’s also a great idea in summer when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen.

Veggie Dip

  • 1 c. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ c. minced onion
  • ¼ t. salt
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • ½ t. garlic powder
  • 1 t. dill weed
  • ½ t. cumin

Whisk all ingredients together. Chill before serving. This dip is also pretty good on baked potatoes.

Serving suggestions: Naturally, dips are great with chips of some kind. Depending on the dip, select pita chips, corn chips, veggie chips, or Fritos. Some work well when spread on crackers. You might even discover a dip that works like a condiment in a wrap or pita pocket.

I like when a recipe doesn’t require fancy ingredients, especially when the ingredients called for don’t cost a lot. Move past the French onion and ranch dips and go bolder! You may come up with a winner like my friend, Jerry. Try substituting plain nonfat Greek yogurt for the mayo or cream cheese if you like. The consistency will be different (and you’ll have to really mash out the liquid in canned seafood), but you’ll have less fat and more protein.

And here are a couple bonus selections from the Iowa Girl. A fruit dip and Southwestern Black Bean Dip.

Eat hardy!

 

Foodies Can Make Their Own Stuff

It’s a great idea to keep your own stash of cooking mixes handy. I prefer to make my own with the ingredients I have right in my pantry. I save money that way and I know what’s in my mixes. Most of the time, with a minimum of preservatives. Here’s some DIY mixes I have on hand all the time, with the exception of those that require cooking or preparation immediately for the dish I’m making.

Taco Seasoning (mild)

  • ½ c. + 1 T. chili powder
  • 3 T. cumin
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 T. ground pepper
  • 1 T. paprika
  • 2 T. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. oregano

For a spicier mix, add up to 2 tsp. red pepper flakes or up to 2 tsp. more of the chili powder. Use 2 ½ Tbsp. seasoning for each pound of meat. Stores well in a plastic zipper bag or small jar.

Hot Cocoa Mix

Hot Cocoa Mix

  • 2 c. non-fat dry milk
  • ½ c. baking cocoa
  • 1 c. sugar (or substitute)
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use as much as you need for your individual taste per cup.

 

 

Seasoned Baking Mix (for meat)

  • 1 c. bread crumbs
  • ½ c. flour
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients and store the mixture in a resealable container or zipper bag. This will keep in the pantry up to four months, depending on the humidity. It’s okay to freeze or refrigerate this mix. Easily doubled or tripled. Use recipe one cup at a time as you would the commercial mix. I like to dip my chicken in a mixture of ½ c. milk (or buttermilk, which you can also make yourself) and one beaten egg. I also make my own bread crumbs using stale bread or the crusts of bread by pulverizing them in a blender. The crumbs can be stored in the fridge too for use in other recipes.

  Hot Fudge Topping

Left: Pumpkin Pie Spice
Right: Taco Seasoning

  •   1 c. sugar
  •   2 Tbsp. flour
  •   3 Tbsp. cocoa
  •   1 c. milk
  •   1 tsp. vanilla
  •   Salt to taste

Combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan. Add cold milk gradually, stirring constantly and cook until thickened. Just before it thickens, add the vanilla.

Enchilada Sauce

  • 3 c. chicken broth                                      1 tsp. cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. salt                                                 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 heaping tsp. garlic powder                   1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 tsp sugar or substitute                      1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. oregano                                            8 oz. can tomato paste
  • 5 Tbsp. cold water                                     5 Tbsp. flour

In a 2 quart saucepan, blend broth, cumin, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, cocoa, oregano, and sugar. Whisk to blend well. As mixture is heating, slowly blend in the tomato paste. Heat to boiling, then quickly reduce heat to a low boil. Cook for 3 minutes more. Whisk frequently to thoroughly dissolve spices.

While sauce simmers, make a thickener adding flour to the water 1 tablespoon at a time. (Whisk or shake vigorously in a shaker to avoid lumps.) Use more flour as needed. While sauce is at a low boil, add thickener, stirring constantly. If sauce forms a skin while cooling, peel it off and toss it. This particular homemade specialty will impress you and your family or guests. It’s much tastier and, like I said, you know what’s in it.

Eazy Peazy Pizza Crust

1 ½ c. Baking mix              1/3 c. boiling water

Make a soft dough from the mix and water, using a little flour to keep dough from being too sticky. Boiling the water is what will make the crust more chewy and flavorful. Makes enough for one pizza or 4 six-inch pizzas, depending on how thick you like your crust. If you know how to make your own baking mix, all the better.

Just for Fun: The Classic English Breakfast

Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Toast, Mushrooms, Beans, Sliced tomatoes, and of course, Tea.