Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Herbs & Spices for Your Holiday Cooking

We often take more time to experiment with recipes and try new ones throughout the holiday season. This may mean using herbs and spices we haven’t tried before or discovering new ways to use familiar ones.

Utilizing herbs and spices often enables you to cut down on the salt and sugar in a recipe if you have dietary considerations in those areas. These condiments give an intriguing flavor (when used in proper, not excessive, amounts) so you don’t need your food so salty or sweet to taste good.

Herbs vs. Spices

Whether a flavoring is obtained from the leafy or another part of a plant generally determines whether it’s labeled an herb or spice. With some plants you can use both parts; others you utilize one or the other.

Herbs are more likely to come from the leaves, and you use them both fresh and dried.
Some of the herbs you may have heard about or have used include: thyme, tarragon, mint, parsley, oregano, chives, sage, rosemary, coriander, marjoram, and basil. Do you have some favorites?

We generally obtain spices from the bark, roots, seeds, fruit, or stems of the plants. Sometimes you use them dried and ground; other times whole. For instance, you can purchase cinnamon in a ground form and as a bark stick.

Those you may have used are: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, paprika, anise, cumin, mustard seed, and ginger.

History of Herbs and Spices

Throughout the ages, cooks, witch doctors, medical specialists, and folklorists have found various uses for herbs and spices besides flavoring foods.

Some have medicinal properties; others have been used in religious ceremonies. You will find some were believed to be love potions. Others were considered a sign of wealth, especially during the Middle Ages. Traders of those times, too, considered spices very valuable.

Trading routes to the Orient, over land and sea, were prominent in those days to bring spices from the Far East. Marco Polo sought spices and the spice routes during his travels.

Uses of Herbs and Spices

My mother-in-law used herbs and spices so well and produced intriguing flavors with her foods. What was her secret?

“Never use so much people can tell what it is,” Mum once told me. “Leave them asking what you put into that recipe to make it taste so good.”

Some people overwhelm you with flavors in their cooking that you can’t taste the food. Now, all of this will depend on individual taste. Some people do like the flavor of particular herbs and spices so will add more of these to their cooking. To those who like milder flavors, they’ll want to be intrigued, not overwhelmed.

APPLESAUCE COOKIES are a nice harvest and holiday dish using spices. Mix together ½ cup shortening, 1 egg, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup applesauce into which you’ve stirred 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Sift together 2 cups flour, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Stir into the applesauce mixture. Add 1 cup rasisins or chocolate chips. Drop onto greased cookie sheets. Bake 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees F. or until done.

©2008 Mary Emma Allen


Jean Bowler said...

My favorite herbs are almost the classic Simon and Garfunkle song title: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. :-) I also love to use basil.

I'm using less butter and salt for flavor these days - more herbs and spices. They make food more healthful, as well as more tasty!

Mary Emma Allen said...

Thank you, Jean, for visiting my Country Kitchen and sharing your favorite herbs.

I, too, have been learning to use less salt and butter for flavoring. I very seldom add it to my cooking, or at least very little. I'm experimenting with more herbs and spices.