When we put up a calendar for the New Year, we often contemplate turning over a new leaf in our everyday life. Resolutions are made to lose weight, phone home more often, be nicer to the neighbors. When you’re thinking about what you’d like to change this year, give some thought to your food and how well it’s flavored. To get you going on this here a few suggestions for “seasonal resolutions” you can keep all year long.
Focus on One Spice Each Month
Sometimes we just get into a flavor rut, making foods automatically without considering how the seasoning could be enhanced. But major overhaul of how foods are flavored can cause a domestic riot, especially if you have a meat-and-potatoes guy around the house.
Instead of risking a revolt, try making changes a little at a time. Focus on one herb or spice each month. At least once a week consider how that seasoning could be included to make things taste better. For January, perhaps you can begin with paprika or chili powder. Try a little in the scrambled eggs or on the pot roast. Then in February, try another herb, thyme perhaps. By the end of the year, you will have increased your seasoning know-how with a dozen herbs and spices…and have better flavored food in the bargain.
Chances are you are storing your spice jars in a place that is either awkward to reach or bad for the spices themselves. A simple relocation may help encourage you to use them and keep them more flavorful.
Spice jars should be within easy reach when you are cooking. Keeping them on a shelf in the laundry room behind the canned tomatoes just doesn’t cut it. Think about where you do most of your work in the kitchen. Your spices should be within arm’s reach or, at most, one step away.
When selecting a location, remember that the three enemies of flavor are light, humidity, and exposure to air. Don’t store spice jars in freezers or refrigerators, above the sink or the stove, and never, never in a sunny window. Herbs and spices like cool, dry, dark spots. Freezers and refrigerators are the most humid places in the house (except for the bathroom after a hot shower). The sink and stove both contribute heavily to the humidity when they are in use. Sunny windows literally bleach out the flavor in your seasonings.
No, I don’t mean get out the dusting cloth and polish the jars. What you probably need to clean out is the contents of those spice jars! How old is that tarragon you keep shoving to the back? Is your paprika turning pale and tasting weak? If you’ve had any spice for more than two years, it’s time to toss them and get more. Having fresh spices will give you a better flavor boost when you use them.
Grow Your Own Herb(s)
Dried herbs are convenient, but fresh herbs always taste better. Let this be the year that you try growing at least one herb to use in your kitchen. Select something you already use frequently. Here are some of the more popular and hardy herbs ideally suited for growing in your garden or on the patio:
- Chives – Sprinkle fresh on soups, add to seasoned breads
- Oregano – Perfect with any tomato based dish
- Parsley – Good with scrambled eggs or mixed with meat seasonings
- Mint – Add to desserts as flavoring or garnish
- Rosemary – Use with roast poultry or grilled lamb
- Thyme – Goes with any meat seasoning or in biscuit mixes
If this is your first attempt at growing herbs, don’t get over-enthusiastic and buy twenty-seven different ones. Just try one or two and learn how to grow them. Success growing oregano will encourage you to go on and try thyme or rosemary. You can do it!
Learn to Make Something From Scratch
A recent survey revealed that only 70 percent of U. S. households own cookware (pots, pans, baking trays) and one third “rarely, if ever” cook from scratch. Add to this our fondness for fast food and it becomes clear we are losing our ability to make our own food the way we like it. Much of the food we eat is pre-packaged and seasoned according to a test panel at General Foods or Pillsbury. This is what I call the “least common denominator” method of food flavoring.
This year, buck the trend and learn to make something from scratch. If you don’t bake, try making cookies, a satisfying and quickly rewarding snack. If you rely heavily on those seasoning packets in the “Heat and Eat” aisle of your supermarket, try learning how to make your own salad dressing, or pasta sauce, or pot roast flavoring. It’s not rocket science.
Go Get ‘Em!
Long lasting changes are best done a little at a time as we incorporate new behavior into old routine. Make this the year you take charge of your home cooking and add spice to your life.